Covid-19: Mother In Divorce Case Fears Weekly Alternate Custody with Husband Exposes Children to Disease

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Dr. Cholakian hopes she and her husband can work out a temporary custody deal to minimize risk of their children's exposure to covid-19.
 
A Queens, New York, mother involved in a bitter divorce case is worried that her twin daughters risk being infected with the covid-19 coronavirus during the weekly back-and-forth travel between the homes of their parents.
 
She has proposed to her husband that the children remain with her during this emergency and that he have regular visitation; and that the current co-parenting arrangement resume once the New York authorities declare that the covid-19 danger is over.
 
The husband, his attorney, as well as the court-appointed lawyer for the eight year old children, have not accepted the proposal by the mother, she says.
 
Underscoring the mother’s concern, the judge presiding over the case, Margaret Parisi-McGowan, has contracted the covid-19 virus, according to a report on March 19, in the New York Law Journal.
 
Indeed, the covid-19 pandemic raises many challenges in terms of dealing with pending cases, including sensitive ones that involve joint custody of children whose parents are in the middle of divorce. The New York courts system is only dealing with emergency cases.
 
The mother of the girls, Dr. Siranush Cholakian, says her concern —and those of other parents caught in a similar situation— qualifies as an emergency given the risk of exposure to the virus by the children by having to come outdoors every week when they move from the home of one parent to the other.
 
Under the current custody arrangement, the children, 8-year-old twin girls, spend Mondays and Tuesdays with their father; and Wednesdays and Thursdays with the mother. The parents alternate week-end custody starting from Friday morning, until Monday. The parents live within about a mile of each other. The parents have been in divorce proceedings since February 2018. Due to the pandemic, their next court date isn't until June 16.
 
When the children are at her home, they are taken care of by Dr. Cholakian and their uncle Dr. Garo Cholakian, who is a dentist; the Cholakians own and live in the house where the children lived from the time they were adopted until the divorce case.
 
When they are with their father, he is assisted by a nanny who comes to help care for them. Dr. Cholakian is also concerned that the nanny may have other clients and her interactions with them could also expose the children to additional risks.  
 
“I am extremely worried that the nanny continues to go in and out your apartment. As you know she is circulating around doing her other jobs, which you can't stop,” Dr. Cholakian wrote, in an e-mail message to her husband, Frederic Leeds, who is a federal immigration judge, on April 2. “With that she is putting both you and the children at risk for contracting the deadly virus. Social distancing is a must!”
 
“Again, I would like to offer my help and keep the children at home with me till the emergency situation improves,” Dr. Cholakian’s appeal, continued. “That will save you not only money, but will also be much safer for the children and you. I have closed my doors already for weeks for visitors or patients. No outside people are coming in and out of the house. I have supplied the house with food some weeks ago and I am cooking at home.”
 
She also wrote: “With that, you are going to be able to come and pick up the children or I can drop them to you instead of exchanging the children in public places which is automatically increasing the exposure  of contracting the virus.”
 
Dr. Cholakian also copied the letter to her husband’s lawyer, Neveen Nesheiwat, and the attorney for the children, Terrence Worms.
 
The husband turned down the proposal with a short note that states, "Dear Siranush: I am handling the children very well. I have the nanny's help to keep a positive relationship with the children.” He also wrote that the nanny “is avoiding others except coming to my home. Please drop the children off as required under the custody agreement..."
 
The lawyer for the children, Worms, responded in an e-mail message to Dr. Cholakian, saying: "The order of protection, whether you agree with it now or not, has not changed. You put yourself at risk for having pick up and drop offs in any other location. There is no subsequent order that changes the protective order. While a agree with the social distancing protocol. Car to car exchange should not be any different than door to door if all protocols are followed." Worms was referring to a five years stay-way order of protection granted to Judge Leeds by Judge McGowan without a hearing or any due process, as part of a divorce settlement.
 
When contacted via e-mail message yesterday by Black Star News, to get his views about Dr. Cholakian’s covid-concerns and the children, Worms, in a short e-mail message said, “I have no comment on this active court matter at this time. Stay safe.”
 
Nesheiwat did not respond to an e-mail message seeking comment from her or from her client Judge Leeds.
 
In an earlier interview, Dr. Cholakian, reacting to the order of protection, said: “I was the one whose arm was broken and he’s the one who gets an order of protection. Only in Judge McGowan’s court where everything is upside down.”
 
Before the covid-19 pandemic, Dr. Cholakian had filed an order to show cause asking Judge McGowan to recuse herself and also to set-aside the settlement agreement she signed in November, 2019, which she contends was done under duress.
 
One of the issues Dr. Cholakian brought up in her OTSC was the fact that her own attorney, Max Di Fabio, in a written statement they both co-signed, said Judge McGowan had tried to pressure him to ask Dr. Cholakian to withdraw a criminal case she’d filed against Judge Leeds.
 
The Di Fabio statement, which the lawyer himself drafted in order to memorialize his interactions with Judge McGowan and addressed to Dr. Cholakian, dated July 13, 2019, in part reads, Judge McGowan “…voiced her displeasure at you having filed the criminal complaint more than one year after the incident and immediately or attendant to the filing of your divorce action. She requested that I ask you to withdraw the complaint because, in her opinion, you only filed the complaint to destroy your husband’s career.” Di Fabio added, “I explained to the Judge that I would take no such action, and while I understood that the Court did not look favorably on your filing the complaint, nonetheless your claim that you are the victim of domestic violence had to be respected and the decision as to whether to withdraw the complaint is entirely yours and yours alone to make.”
 
Those charges had stemmed from an incident on June 18, 2017. Dr. Cholakian says they were at home when her husband got up from his chair from about 15 feet away, rushed and pushed her with full force sending her crashing backward to the ground and breaking her arm. The alleged attack was witnessed by one of the children, Dr. Cholakian said.
 
In an affidavit filed June 11, 2018 in response to Dr. Cholokian’s court papers in the ongoing divorce proceedings, Judge Leeds claimed his wife had been yelling and screaming at him and leaned toward him while he was seated. “I did push defendant off of me, at which time she fell in a dramatic manner and injured her wrist,” Judge Leeds wrote about his wife, who is the defendant in the divorce case.
 
Dr. Cholakian wore a cast for about six weeks, after the incident. Dr. Cholakian, who was 55 at the time of the incident, is 5’ 0” and weighs about 125 pounds. Her husband is 6’1” and weighs about 180 pounds, she says. (In a bench trial, Judge Leeds was later acquitted on the criminal charges in Queens criminal court, in September, 2019. Dr. Cholakian claims it was simply because a judge didn’t want to convict a fellow judge).
 
Dr. Cholakian says Judge McGowan made additional biased rulings against her, including forcing her to sign the controversial November 2019, settlement agreement. Dr. Cholakian says she was also intimidated by Judge McGowan who on multiple occasions had threatened to throw her in jail for six months.
 
The children are ethnic Armenian, and the settlement also states that after the twins finish this academic year at the Holy Martyrs Armenian Day School in Oakland Gardens, New York, they would be transferred to a school of their father's choice. "This broke my heart," Dr. Cholakian said in an earlier interview. "I want the children to maintain their Armenian culture and heritage as they grow up as Americans. I think that is very important for them."
 
Considering the long break in the case until the June court date, Dr. Cholakian says she’s concerned about the couple’s $507,264.29, marital funds which remains in a trust with Judge Leeds’ lawyer, Nesheiwat, as the escrow agent. Before Judge McGowan transferred control to Nesheiwat the funds had been under the control of an independent escrow agent, she says.
 
On March 26, when Dr. Cholakian wrote to Nesheiwat, asking for an accounting, she wrote back: "The deposit and checks written have all been provided to your attorneys (The deposit to Mr. Lebowitz and the checks written and Court Orders to Mr. DeFabio). I need not provide multiple accountings at your whim." She was referring to Di Fabio, Dr. Cholakian’s second attorney.
 
Nesheiwat did not respond to an email message from Black Star News inquiring about the account's current balance and about whether every withdrawal that's been made since she became escrow agent on August 7, 2018, was authorized by a court order by Judge McGowan. The lawyers Lebowitz, and Di Fabio, also didn’t respond to an e-mail message seeking comment. Di Fabio is no longer representing Dr. Cholakian.
 
Separately, Dr. Cholakian has also filed a complaint against Judge McGowan to the New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct.
 
The link to a previous article published on Black Star News about Dr. Cholakian’s case and her allegations of bias by Judge McGowan, has been disabled. Similarly, a link to a Black Star News story about another doctor, Robby Mahadeo, who also filed a complaint against Judge McGowan with the commission has also been deleted. 
 
Black Star News has reported the matter to the FBI cybercrimes unit. 
 
 
Follow the author @allimadi on Twitter and miltonallimadi on Instagram. If you have a story to report involving injustice reach Black Star News via mallimadi@blackstarnews.com or colin_b30@yahoo.com
 

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