It is no joke to put this kind of story out there, a deeply personal one that delves into the close personal space of a family in dispute. I am writing this for the children of this family who are suffering from the loss of their mother. At their ages, 15, 15, and 11, their voices should be heard. They have not been heard.
The father is Chris Ambrose, a former Hollywood TV writer who wrote for Law and Order, Judging Amy, Harry’s Law, Bones, NCIS New Orleans, and other law and crime detection shows.
In 2018 – on April Fools Day – he sabotaged his career when an episode of CBS’s Instinct, ‘Secrets and Lies,’ a show he was credited for writing, was exposed as having a script that plagiarized from two episodes of Fox’s Bones, aired 10 years earlier.
Fans of Bones caught the plagiarism and posted on social media. The media, including CBS-owned TV Guide published it. Ambrose was let go. His agents fired him. He would never return to Los Angeles, for, in his business, he was unemployable.
You can read about it here:
Ambrose returned to Westport CT, back to the family home his wife and children had lived in for a decade, mostly without him.
Ambrose [above], who is also a lawyer, but who has not practiced in 20 years, admitted to the custody evaluator in his divorce and custody case, “I did a stupid thing” and it was “shameful,” and “hugely embarrassing.”
In 2004, Ambrose married Karen Riordan, a successful teacher [she won ‘Distinguished Teacher of the Year” in 2003, for the Greenwich School District, an affluent district with more than 700 teachers.] He and his wife adopted three Latino children and, since Mia was adopted in 2007, Riordan became a stay at home mother and devoted every day of her life to raising the children, Mia, Matthew and Sawyer, until one fateful day when they were removed from her custody by CT Family Court. That date was April 24, 2020.
The children have not been with their mother for 676 days.
It is clear that this is not what the children want. It is clear that the mother has nothing in the record that would disqualify her from having, at least, joint custody with the father.
I found a clue as to why the father got sole custody in that Ambrose never filed the legally required financial affidavit prior to custody being awarded to him. Riordan repeatedly requested enforcement of the law that demands that spouses file financial affidavits. The judges who presided over the case never enforced it.
Testimony in the divorce and custody trial in CT Family Court, revealed that, prior to the divorce, Ambrose took all the marital assets into his control, locking his wife out of accounts she was half owner in interest of. Ambrose testified that he did not trust her not to take the money, so he took it from her.
August 22, 2019: Bridgeport CT. Courtroom of Judge Eddie Rodriguez:
Q: You just said that Mrs. Ambrose at one point asked you for access to the financial accounts, your marital financial accounts, right?
Q– that you just started; correct?
Ambrose: Yes. I’m sorry. Yes.
Q: And you didn’t give it to her?
Ambrose: I told her. I said what– I said that it’s the same as it was before. The mutual fund is the same as it was before. I was not going to give Karen the password to our investment portfolio.
Ambrose: Because I don’t trust her.
Q: Okay. Even though you know that there is $150,000 of money that she received from her mother’s estate that you are in control of?
Ambrose: And the rest of it is– she never had a problem with that. She never asked for access before. And I don’t trust her to have access… And when she started asking for the passwords to the Fidelity account it was the same kind of dynamic. And I was worried that Karen– if I gave her the passwords she could go in, she could sell stock, she could deplete the whole thing, she could lock me out of the account and disappear in the night, just like she had before.
Q: So you have control over that?
Ambrose: I — I have– well, control, as I have the entire marriage and she’s never asked once before this year to see the accounts.
That did not sound fair to me. While, yes, when they were married, he may have managed the money, but it was still half hers. Now that they were getting divorced, why should he have sole control, now that they had plans to split?
Ambrose said he did not trust her. In his mind that gave him the right to take her money. He was worried she would take it, so he took it himself.
How is what he did different than what he accused his wife, without evidence, of potentially doing? Ambrose took the money and locked her out of all their jointly-owned accounts and depleted the marital assets.
The excuse, “I stole from her because I thought she would steal from me,” passed muster in CT Family Court.
But Judge Rodriguez laid down the law. He gave primary custody of the children to the mother, and declared he would not go forward without a financial affidavit from Ambrose.
Surprisingly [or not if you know how CT Family Court works], he was replaced. Judge Jane Grossman took over the case and not only did she not require Ambrose to give his wife back her half of the money, but she also gave him the children with a no-contact order for the mother.
The last of three judges, Gerard Adelman, ordered Ambrose to make monthly spousal payments of $4500. Over the 32 months this case has been pending, Ambrose made exactly four payments, then stopped.
Judge Adelman declined to order Ambrose to pay them, until this month, when he ordered spousal payments cut to $3100 monthly, after Ambrose finally filed a financial affidavit, 32 months late. But Adelman put a condition on it: There was only one mutual funds account that Ambrose did not fully control. It required his wife’s signature.
Adelman ordered Riordan to sign over the account to Ambrose, and ordered the money in the account be deposited into Ambrose’s bank account.
The lately filed financial affidavit shows Ambrose has been living off of marital assets, and depleted about half of them. Ambrose is in effect using her half of the marital assets as his own, while Riordan has no access to her own money.
And Judge Adelman ordered her to give Ambrose her last dollar.
This was the clue that showed me why the mother lost custody of her children.
From the start of the divorce, Riordan was at a disadvantage, when she should have been on equal footing with her husband, through his act of taking their money into his control, and by the judges not enforcing his disclosure of assets in violation of state law.
After Ambrose took control of the money, he controlled the legal process. The children and mother were soon separated, destroying the happiness of both.
This lack of equal footing, and the judges’ apparent indifference to blatant, willful, admitted theft of marital assets, gave Ambrose free reign to spend what he needed on lawyers and experts, while his wife was essentially destitute and could not compete in the expensive world of CT Family Court.
Ambrose, as we now know, controlled over $2 million in marital assets. Since filing for divorce in July 2019, Ambrose spent, records show, nearly one million out of their joint assets in the custody and divorce dispute, as well as living off their money.
Records also show that Ambrose stole Riordan’s inheritance from her mother, $150,000, which Ambrose admitted under oath in court. She inherited the money before they were married.
Judge Adelman did not order him to return Riordan’s inheritance.
Riordan, basically without funds, cashed in her entire retirement pension for her work of 17 years as teacher, and tried to retain attorneys, but soon ran out of money to pay them.
Ambrose hired one of the best, most well-connected lawyers in the CT Family Court’s high-conflict divorce and custody business, Nancy Aldrich, an attorney who specializes in using influence and technique to get her clients sole custody. She charges $650 per hour.
With 200 billable hours for the trial alone, now in its 36th day – she is still presenting her client’s case – and an estimated 800 hours in pretrial hearings, email communications, phone calls, meetings with the client, discussions with attorneys, briefs, motions and strategy sessions with the guardian ad litem [GAL] an attorney retained to represent the children’s best interests, Aldrich has been paid an estimated $650,000 for her work on the case.
It was Aldrich who recommended the GAL, Jocelyn Hurwitz, an attorney with the law firm of Cohen and Wolf. The court appointed her, despite Riordan’s objection.
According to her retainer, Hurwitz bills at $400 per hour. She has billed close to $200,000.
Since Ambrose controls the money, he controls the scope of her ever-expanding work. He was generous in agreeing, over Riordan’s objection, to use her share of the money from the sale of the marital home to pay the GAL about $50,000 – all out of Riordan’s share.
Ambrose also agreed to an extraordinary condition – that Hurwitz attend every hour of the trial – billing at $400 per hour, as she logged in from home or her office via teleconference – a windfall of $100,000 for Hurwitz and the trial is not anywhere near complete.
Riordan objected to the GAL being at every hour of the trial, since the standard practice is that GALs appear only when called to testify. Judge Adelman overruled Riordan and consented to Hurwitz’s attendance at trial.
It made sense to me why the better parent, but the one without money, was denied access to the children.
Early in her appointment as GAL, Hurwitz recommended a custody evaluator, Dr. Jessica Biren-Caverly, whose job it is to recommend to the court who should get custody. The father paid Dr. Caverly for the custody report and her testimony in support of it – about $20,000.
Dr. Caverly wrote in her report that Riordan was alienating the children from their father to the point where the children did not want to be with him, and that the children must be separated from their mother until a reunification therapist “can foster a positive relationship between Riordan and Ambrose.”
The record shows that Riordan is not a danger to the children, though Ambrose might be.
There are accounts by the children of abuse by their father that were not investigated. There is ample evidence that show the children are uncomfortable with Ambrose and that began well before the divorce, when he suddenly returned home in 2018 after being fired from his work.
Caverly recommended a boatload of therapists in her report. Riordan objected but Ambrose agreed. Using marital funds, or through the family’s health insurance company, which he paid, and controlled, he pleased the custody evaluator and hired a phalanx of her colleagues as therapists — psychologists, and social workers, all of whom work in high conflict divorce and custody cases before CT Family Court.
In fact, research shows that in CT, high conflict divorce and custody cases almost always wind up with a gaggle of therapists, even if there were no therapists needed before.
They take on various roles: Reunification therapists, supervised visitation therapists, therapist for each individual family member and a joint family therapist, all reporting to the GAL.
All in all, Ambrose v Riordan has been a feeding frenzy for lawyers and therapists, with Ambrose in control and paying the bills with his and his wife’s money, without the wife having any say whatsoever.
As I studied this and other cases, it seemed the more the conflict, the more outrageous the actions of judges in support of GALs and custody evaluators, and most importantly in support of the man [it is usually the man] with the money, occurred.
The higher the conflict, the more billable hours for experts, and the more, as I read the documents and transcripts in this case and others, the attorneys and the GAL seemed to stoke the fires of conflict.
I also found it curious how deferential, and how reliant judges were on the recommendations of GALs and reports of custody evaluators, as if their recommendations were gospel and should alone determine custody, and the trial itself was almost superfluous, just there for show and so that attorneys could bill more hours.
Of course this only happens when there is money to be billed.
High conflict means in CT that at least one parent has money. When there is no money, and there is a dispute, none of these actors get involved. The Department of Child and Family Services sorts it out for free.