It’s Been a Year Since Catherine Kassenoff’s Assisted Suicide. Has Anything Changed in Family Court?

After she lost custody of her three daughters in a divorce proceeding that labeled her behavior “harmful” and unhinged, Catherine Kassenoff decided to end her life in a Swiss assisted suicide facility on May 27, 2023.

“She couldn’t live without her children and the court was saying she couldn’t live with her children,” said Wayne Baker, the executor of Kassenoff’s estate, “so where did that leave her?”

Many in the family court reform movement thought the dramatic death of an astute legal mind like Catherine—who still couldn’t win in our backward system—would finally mark a watershed for reform. One year later, what has changed?

‘Hysterical’ Women Out for Revenge: Family Court’s Misogynistic Tropes Traumatize Women and Children

The misogynist trope of the “hysterical woman out for revenge” is used quite effectively by coercive controlling abusers—and, as a result, some women lose custody of their children and are financially ruined.

“It’s more comfortable to accept the explanation that women are crazy, rather than that many men are violent,” said attorney Suzanne Zaccour, director of legal affairs at the National Association of Women in the Law in Ottawa.

But the tide is turning, as notable cases like Catherine Kassenoff’s emerge, highlighting institutional gender bias in family courts.

Lawyers Say Catherine Kassenoff’s Case—and Thousands of Others—Violate U.S. Constitutional Right to Due Process

During Catherine Kassenoff’s last call with her lawyer Harold Burke, she was distraught by the latest court ruling that terminated all contact with her daughters. Burke assured her they could fight the decision “just like Sylvia did” and thought he had convinced her to hang on in the battle they were waging in family court. He was wrong. 

Sylvia Lee lost custody of her children in 2012 after her husband claimed to “fear for their safety.” In 2016, the New York Court of Appeals reversed the decision.

Lawyers like Burke are taking up the fight for court reform on behalf of Catherine and other mothers, they said, because what’s happening violates federal civil rights law: Courts routinely deny women’s constitutional right to due process—a right the U.S. Supreme Court has stated includes “an opportunity to be heard”—and have lost their children because of it.

Experts Say Catherine Kassenoff’s Family Court Case Should Alarm America

Dr. Bandy Lee—who warned the country about Donald Trump—calls the family court system another threat to our democracy.

Lee had been in touch with Catherine Kassenoff, the New York mother and attorney ended her life through assisted suicide over Memorial Day Weekend because she couldn’t fight for custody of her daughters any longer. “What family courts have enabled is the ability of abusers—through the accusation that the other parent is alienating them from their children—to reverse the victim and offender,” Lee said. “It is an abuser’s dream come true to be labeled the good one and to accuse their victims of their own guilt and own crimes—and also to call the healthy person mentally ill.” 

Allan Kassenoff Resigns After Public Outcry Over Wife Catherine’s Apparent Suicide

Since news of New York attorney and mother Catherine Kassenoff’s reported assisted suicide in Switzerland, her husband’s former employer—the law firm Greenberg Traurig—has been in the hot seat. Late Sunday night, the law firm released a statement announcing Allan Kassenoff’s resignation. In her goodbye letter, Catherine singled out the firm as one of the ways her husband allegedly dominated their court case: “The more I fought to show these materials to the public and to the Courts, the more I was punished for daring to make such accusations against a rich, white man and Greenberg Traurig shareholder.”

Many of Catherine’s supporters applauded the decision, but the victory is bittersweet. “It is sad, but no one helps us while we are alive,” said Elizabeth Harding Weinstein, Catherine’s friend and a court reform advocate.

Remembering Catherine Kassenoff and Continuing the Fight for Fair U.S. Child Custody Outcomes

Why would a brilliant attorney and mother of three take her own life? Because the dysfunctional U.S. family court system took her kids and drove her—like so many others—over the edge.

If a superwoman like Catherine Kassenoff—who had grit, plus training as an elite legal mind—was defeated by our American family court system, what does that say for the rest of women terrorized and victimized?

Empty Home for the Holidays: Mothers Who Can’t See Their Children Blame Broken Family Court System

More than 58,000 children are ordered into unsupervised contact with physically or sexually abusive parents after divorce every year.

The double whammy? Domestic abuse survivors, unlike accused criminals, don’t get a free attorney and there’s no organization to fund women to level the legal playing field in high conflict divorce cases. So, some men clearly use the courts as a weapon to drain women of resources, causing them to lose savings, jobs and in some cases their children. 

“I didn’t want to leave but I couldn’t afford to stay after spending my last cent on my court battle. I hope to reduce my expenses, pay off legal debts and continue to fight for my children.”