The Holly Collins custody/parental abduction case is perhaps the most prominent custody case in the media at this moment. Holly Collins and her supporters among domestic violence and feminist advocates assert that the case demonstrates that family courts are biased against battered women and favor abusive men. Below I take a look at the evidence in the case.

Holly Collins and Mark Collins had two children, Zachary (born April, 1983) and Jennifer (born May, 1985), before getting divorced in 1990.  After the divorce, there was a highly contentious custody battle, during which Holly Collins repeatedly alleged that Mark Collins had abused both her and the children. Holly Collins moved the children to Massachusetts in 1991 but the court found that she was denying Mark Collins’ contact with the children and ordered that they return to Minneapolis in June, 1992.

Mark Collins claimed that Holly was interfering and obstructing his relationship with his children, and attempting to alienate the children from him. Holly Collins drew support from the Minneapolis domestic violence community, and the case drew considerable media attention.  During this period, the case’s custody evaluators noted “in response to routine questions about custodial plans, Holly stated ‘I’ll make the biggest media circus out of this if I have to.  I’ll do whatever it takes if Mark gets custody.’”

Hennepin County Family Court services found that Holly Collins suffers from multiple disorders, including Munchausen’s Syndrome by Proxy (MSbP), where a parent invents, induces or exaggerates medical symptoms in a child. Hennepin County Family Court Services and the Guardian ad Litem in the case recommended that Mark Collins be granted legal and physical custody of the children and that Holly Collins have supervised visitation.

In December of 1992, Minnesota Family Court Judge Michael J. Davis found “the evidence is overwhelming that the children are at great physical and emotional risk if the children remained in Holly Collins’ care” and awarded custody of the then-9 and 7-year-old children to Mark Collins. To read the Court’s ruling, see document #12 here.

After the custody switch, Holly Collins claimed that Zachary and Jennifer were being severely abused by Mark Collins and his wife Rena, and that the children’s health was in danger because of Mark Collins’ alleged lack of concern over their alleged medical issues.  In an April, 1993 report to the Court, Guardian ad Litem Michael J. London describes the children’s state as being exactly the opposite of what Holly Collins claimed.  In the report, he wrote:

Since the change in custody on December 22, 1992, I visited with the children on three occasions; attended a doctor’s appointment with the children’s allergist, Dr. Blum; spoken with the children’s pediatrician; met with Dr. Cline and Dr. Davis; spoken with Dr. Cline on numerous occasions; met with the children’s schoolteachers; spoken with the mother of one of Zachary’s friends; spoken with Mr. Collins and Ms. Learmonth [Holly Collins' attorney] several times; met with court services and child protection and reviewed substantial amounts of written material.  My observations in discussions with those involved reveal two happy children who have adjusted very well to the change in custody.

To read London’s report, see document number #26 here.

The Minnesota Court of Appeal affirmed the lower court’s award of custody to Mark Collins in March of 1994. The Court of Appeal noted that “the children have adjusted well to the new custody arrangement” in Mark Collins’ care and that “the children’s health has improved.”

The court said that Holly Collins’ accusations that Mark Collins and his current wife were abusing the children were “found to be without substance,” and that the lower court’s finding that Holly Collins’ care “endangered [the children's] physical and emotional health” was “supported by evidence in the record.”

According to Judge Davis, Michael London, Esq., the Guardian ad Litem in the case, said that Holly Collins appeared to be “therapist shopping” to find a therapist who would support her version of events in the case. The Court of Appeal noted that the record supports the lower court’s finding that Holly Collins “suffers from a personality disorder.” To read the Court of Appeal’s ruling, see document #13 here.

Judges ruling on the case at various levels repeatedly found that Holly Collins tried to interfere with Mark Collins’ relationship with his children and alienate them from him.  For example, in February 1992, Judge Steven C. Lange and Referee Marybeth Dorn found that “the children’s emotional and psychological health may be harmed if they continue in the physical care of the respondent [Holly Collins], if she continues to alienate them from the petitioner [Mark Collins] and deny visitation.” In March, 1994 the Court of Appeal upheld the trial court’s ruling in December of 1992, explaining that the trial court’s findings “reflect mother’s chronic and unreasonable failure to comply with court ordered visitation.”  The Court of Appeal also upheld a lower court’s finding that Holly Collins had “instilled fear of father in both children.”

After the Court of Appeal denied Holly Collins’ appeal for a custody switch from Mark Collins to Holly Collins in March of 1994, Holly Collins kidnapped Zachary and Jennifer (along with her baby Christopher, fathered by Jeff Imm), and took all three children to Holland.   Holly, who was sought by the FBI for the kidnapping, claimed that her ex-husband Mark Collins was severely abusing the children and that she needed to flee to protect them.

According to the Minneapolis City Pages, which has published numerous articles sympathetic to Holly Collins, in 2008, the “felony kidnapping charges were dropped in exchange for Holly Collins pleading to a lesser charge…She was sentenced to unsupervised probation for one year, or until she completes 40 hours of community service, which she plans to serve in the Netherlands.”

Jennifer Collins, Holly’s now 23-year-old daughter who was kidnapped from her father’s custody while a young child, supports her mother’s version of events, and has presented her side of the story in the media. Holly Collins has also garnered widespread sympathy from domestic violence and feminist advocacy organizations, including: the Battered Mothers Custody Conference; The Leadership Council; the California Protective Parents Association; the Institute on Violence, Abuse, and Trauma; Women’s eNews; and others.

Jennifer Collins appeared on a Fox News TV show last fall, and Jennifer and Holly were interviewed by Inside Edition. Jennifer, Holly, and their allies in the domestic violence and feminist advocacy community believe that Holly Collins lost her court case in part because Mark Collins made false accusations of parental alienation, and have cited Holly’s case as a prominent example of why parental alienation is “junk science.”

To date I have not seen any newspaper, radio or TV reporter or commentator take a close look at the record in the Holly Collins case. I have done so, and there are many problems with Holly Collins’ version of the events in her case.  Below I list and discuss some of them. Read the rest of this entry »

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