Yolo County Family Court Favors Mentally Ill Father in Custody Battle

Claire Benoit’s vacation in France with children downward spirals into a fearful custody battle and extended stay abroad.

(From press release) – Perplexed, drained, confused and afraid… Claire Benoit spends every day feeling like an unwarranted fugitive trying to understand why Yolo County Family Court (CA) District Attorney, Jeff Reisig (Child Abduction Unit) is in favor of awarding sole custody of her two toddlers to her ex, Eric Gilson.

Claire Benoit decided to seek peace from the havoc and trauma endured by Eric Gilson during their violently turbulent relationship.  Not only was she a victim of domestic violence and rape by Gilson, she is one of several women that have undergone severe mental and physical abuse, after falling victim to his womanizing and manipulating tactics.

Benoit’s fear of returning to the U.S. with her children stems far beyond her relationship with Gilson… it reaches back through his criminal record, mental illness, prior imprisonment, and testimonials from his ex-wife/domestic violence survivor, Veronica Fragoso, who is also in the midst of a custody battle with Gilson.

He has several domestic violence and stalking charges against him involving Veronica and other women in different cities and counties across the country. As court documents reveal, these issues span most of his adult life… including an entire decade he spent in hiding.

Benoit is pleading for the current judge in her case to fully understand and assess Gilson’s character and history of the case.  Gilson’s criminal record reveals that he spent several years in hiding for defrauding the United States military out of hundreds of thousands of dollars and was among the most wanted by the FBI.  He served prison time for this crime before being released around 2006.

After separating from Gilson, Benoit petitioned the Yolo Family Court in July of 2015 to establish paternity of her youngest child, who was the product of rape by Eric Gilson, via DNA testing.  “My sole purpose for the petition was to have my son on record as being entitled to survivors benefits as the son of a classified permanently mentally disabled father. As Eric has a chronic history of suicide attempts, I also wanted to be sure that my son was covered in the event of tragedy (in the event continued suicide attempts prove successful)” says Benoit.

Supervised visitation was granted at the first hearing, but never exercised by Gilson up until Benoit’s extended vacation departure to France with her children in October 2015.  Unbeknownst to Benoit, Gilson would ignore her attempts to alert him and use the loss of her cell phone as an opportunity for him to file an ex-parte motion for a custody hearing and used a text message from his cell phone to Benoit’s (after being alerted that it wasn’t in her possession) as “proof of service”.

Benoit’s attorney will be standing in on Benoit’s behalf at the next hearing scheduled August 11, 2016, as the Yolo Family Court proceeds with the ex-parte custody hearing and decides if a protective warrant to pick up the children will be issued.

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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  1. Delia .

    From my own experience and also from reading about this mother’s experience,  I would rather take my chances and disappear with my 2 kids than take a risk that CPS, Social Services and California’s criminal justice system would correctly handle the situation.  Those systems do not have the best interests of the child as their number one priority. Most of the time, I want to believe, they get it right. But when they don’t, it’s a sh&tstorm of major proportions. When it is YOUR children whose lives are literally held in the balance, it’s not worth the risk. If I was this Mom, I’d take my children and disappear for good. I pray for her family.

  2. Tia Will


    I am in complete agreement. From my own personal experience, and from that of many, many patients over a 25 year period, the best interest of the child is not what prevails in many cases here in Yolo County and throughout the state ( direct experience in Fresno, Fontana, Sacramento and Davis).

    I am a strong believer in the rule of law and throughout my adult life have followed the law to the best of my ability ( a few episodes of jay walking and speeding not withstanding). But in the case of protection of my children, I would definitely take the children and disappear if this were me. The safety and well being of my children would supersede what I consider the lack of justice in the Family Court system in this county.

    1. David Greenwald

      There is also the string of convictions for domestic violence, stalking, and other things. Plus a rape accusation that the DA’s office doesn’t appear to be very interested in pursuing.

  3. Delia .

    I guess if I was personally dealing with a mentally ill man who had attempted to murder his ex wife and had raped me, I wouldn’t have gone to court to prove paternity and get money from him, because no amount of money is worth the risk of my kids’ safety.

    But I’m not putting any blame on this mom, just saying, personally,  I wouldn’t care about finances if I was broke and in her situation.

    I still think she should be awarded sole custody of her kids, but personally,  I’d just dye my hair, cut it off, wear a disguise, take the children and disappear for good.

  4. Marina Kalugin

    my basic question is WTF does she even want to come back to the US????

    Because she left the US with the children, that is a huge black mark against her in the truly crazy world of “family court”  in the US>

    and, France is so much better in so many ways….be thankful… stay there…find work…get help…and enjoy a way better life…

    Ask me how I know???? or don’t….I don’ t have any more time to share on stuff today…



  5. Delia .

    The da doesn’t feel like stacking additional charges and pursuing spousal rape,  yet they have no problem locking up Ajay Dev for 300 years. Also baffling.

  6. Marina Kalugin

    Family court is the dog pit of the legal world…it is where many end up who cannot make it elsewhere….Not always…there are some who truly care ….but in general, it is the lowest paid and the most stressful….many mistakes are made…and there are some truly horrific rules and such.

    Just ask my friend, Mariko who specializes in such things in her quest to make things better in this state…

    She and the children will be so much better off…walk away….friends would love to visit her where she is….and truly, reduce stress and be thankful….some family will want to relocate once she shares how much better it is….really, not kidding…



  7. Delia .

    I’ve heard France has a better medical care situation and not the great disparity of wealthy vs. low income that is present in America. Plus, OMG, the food. The wine. The art museums. The open spaces…Beautiful.

    1. Marina Kalugin

      yes.    Delia….who wouldn’t want to live there????

      many things happen for a reason Delia…and truly sometimes people don’t know how blessed they are until they go through something like this and end up way better off   🙂   enjoy your day   🙂


    1. Marina Kalugin

      today is a way better day already……finally got a good night’s sleep and met you   🙂

      unlike what was going on on the Katehi threads and the GATE threads yesterday



        1. Marina Kalugin

          yes,  and the fact that I was sleeping in one of my favorite locations alone truly was helping also…ha ha…my hubby is visiting family back east…and there you have it…


  8. Delia .

    May Claire and her family perhaps wind up in the south of France in a little yellow house, enjoying sunflowers,  clean air, and many starry nights. 😉

  9. Napoleon Pig IV

    The court and DA’s office have turned this case into not only a travesty of “justice” and a waste of taxpayers’ money, but also a clear example of the importance of certain Constitutional protections, particularly freedom of speech and freedom of the press. Freedom of speech is not enough, since the poor and non-influential are seldom heard in circles with power. However, the press (in which I include blogs like the Vanguard) can perform a priceless social function and individual service when they pick up major miscarriages of rational thought like this one. Unfortunately, politicians from both major parties have and will seek to limit those freedoms, thus eternal vigilance. . .

    I’m pleased to see a press release used in this case. Some attorneys would advise against such tactics for reasons that I think are often self-serving, but it seems that the victim and her attorney in this case are intelligent and clever enough to partially offset the imbalance of power with tools legally available to them.

    May good judgement and actual justice ultimately prevail in this case, and may a cleansing wind blow through the Yolo courts and related government institutions. Oink!

  10. MamaBear

    Well, I was not expecting child support from Eric as he cannot work due to his mental illness. Only the survivors benefits that my children were entitled to through the state; it never occurred to me that establishing paternity would make us vulnerable to a serious custody battle. It still feels very hard to believe. Had I known this, I’d have never set foot in the Yolo family court. I feel like I am in the Twilight Zone.

    When this resolves (one way or another with my children and I remaining safe and together); it will still be a good while before we can lead semi-normal lives. Our trip to France was intended to be a new page. Thanks to the DA; we have several more chapters of humiliation and trauma to flip through before we can move on with our lives. I do resent that.

    My going public with the details of this case was a last resort for some external awareness – because it is all so totally wrong. It doesn’t change that it has been a wholly embarrassing ordeal. The least of my worries; but still. We truly had suffered enough.

    Shame on these people. I believe my kids and I will be fine in the end, probably better for it. And ultimately these jerks will have their karma. Actually just being alive probably feels like karma when you are a total a$$hole – with no good excuse. So it is what it is.

  11. Marina Kalugin

    so sorry MamaBear….my current husband was Director of NJ Council on Children’s Rights back in the day of Elian Gonzales…it was a “volunteer” job…and he and I know way too much of how many of these work over too many decades.

    I am really sorry you are going through this now…are you and the children safe where you are now?

    and, I bet you will be happier – and  as a result of speaking out will help others and so on……

    1. MamaBear

      Thank you Marina, I do appreciate your good intentions for my family. I have a great deal of hope and that redeems the worst of days. Presently I feel very fortunate that my children are happy and we feel safe. At least the embarrassment is something they won’t understand until it is no longer an issue anyway. Another story for me :-P.

      I am not a violent person at all but I think if I had a time machine right now I’d want to meet Tiffany on an 8th grade playground, all too eager for my suspension.

      Anyway, all things considered, we are very lucky.

  12. Eric Gelber

    I’m not questioning Ms. Benoit’s veracity or the likelihood that Mr. Gilson is an unfit parent. But, as a general rule, I am uneasy with a series of articles that, basically, serve as a forum for one party to an extremely bitter child custody dispute. Just sayin’.

    1. Eric Gelber

      And, I would add that the caption to this particular article is offensive and contributes to the societal stigma attached to mental illness. Having a “mental illness” does not mean that someone cannot be a good parent.

      1. MamaBear

        I agree some people can still be good enough parents despite mental illness

        I believe it becomes an excessive risk when the mental illness has a long consistent history of causing severely violent and abusive behaviors.

        I don’t have any bitterness toward Eric. He is behaving as I’d expect him to. He also has a proper diagnosis that pardons his actions (for the most part). My bitterness is toward the professionals being employed by Yolo county to be rational, honest, and fair. They have been none of the above and have, in fact, broken several laws with zero consequence just because higher authorities are too busy to look at my case.

        The Yolo DA professionals are not disabled by mental illness; they are lawyers. The recent judge may/may not be suffering from alzheimers/dementia but if that’s the case he needs to be at home with some geritol and tea, not issuing orders on cases involving vulnerable children.

      2. South of Davis

        Eric wrote:

        > Having a “mental illness” does not mean that someone

        > cannot be a good parent.

        Did anyone on this site say that?

        I’m wondering if Eric would let Eric Gilson a guy who in addition to having a “mental illness” is an ex-con and rapist with chronic history of suicide attempts babysit young kids?

        With that said I agree with Eric that David should stop the series of one sided articles that do nothing but bash a guy that already has a lot of issues until there is some change in the case to report.

        1. MamaBear

          I have appreciated the DV continuing to cover my case because the next development could be detrimental to the well being of my children if not ultimately cost them their lives. I say this only because it seems to DA and court are poised against me for reasons unknown. My children and I are being blindsided in court and DV has published what they’ve witnessed. My “side” of the story is just what DV has witnessed, including the official documents that I’ve forwarded them.

          In the transcript of my last hearing; Judge Johnson asked CPS to see if it is possible for them to issue a protective order on my kids (against me) to basically kidnap my children from me and take them back to the US where they’ll likely be thrown into a foster home or placed with Eric. (Hence I say life altering trauma/death are not out of the question). And while I do agree some foster homes are great for kids who need them, a foster home is nothing short of traumatic for a well loved and cared for child. Being placed with a violent suicidal man who is using you as a means to assert power/control is never a safe bet for two innocent toddlers. Judge Johnson said he wanted to do this to penalize me for not complying with earlier court orders demanding that I return to the US… I did not kidnap my children as Eric has never had custody nor any role in their lives.

          It is what it is. It seems the Yolo courts intend to fail my children and me. If I fail to protect my kids and If no one else intervenes, a few months from now I may be sitting in a prison cell whilst learning on the news that Eric just offed my kids in his final suicide attempt. Maybe the DA’s office will send me flowers and an “oops” card.

          I hope to be remarkably surprised at the next hearing but I won’t hold my breath. I have done all I can at this point. Leaving it to prayer now because it is the only hope I have.

        2. Eric Gelber


          Did anyone on this site say that?

          If that was not the implication, then why say “court favors mentally ill father”? The media often point out, for example, that the alleged perpetrator of some criminal act is mentally ill, implying causation. E.g., “Mentally ill man kills neighbor.” If causation isn’t being implied, why point it out? You don’t see headlines saying “Diabetic man kills neighbor.” It’s just one way that negative stereotypes of people with mental health problems are perpetuated when, in fact, people with mental and other disabilities are far more likely to be victims than perpetrators of violence.

        3. South of Davis

          Eric wrote:

          > why say “court favors mentally ill father”?

          To let us know more about the guy…

          > The media often point out, for example, that the

          > alleged perpetrator of some criminal act is mentally

          > ill, implying causation.

          When the media reports that the alleged perpetrator of a criminal act is”White” or “African American” do you also think they are “implying causation”?

          > You don’t see headlines saying “Diabetic man

          > kills neighbor.”

          I have never seen that headline, but I did find:

          “California Cops Sued for Attacking Diabetic Man”


    2. Tia Will

      serve as a forum for one party to an extremely bitter child custody dispute. “

      I agree except for one problem with the statement. There is nothing stopping the father from commenting or writing an article stating his version of events. David would almost certainly post it if it met the Vanguard criteria for articles.

      1. Eric Gelber

        Except that, if I were representing the parent in a custody dispute, I would most certainly advise my client not to argue his/her case on a blogsite. They might say something foolish, like questioning the mental competence of the judge.

        1. MamaBear

          Eric – I am sure my attorney would advise that in a normal case. The irony about my case is that no matter how much I have complied and backed all my claims by evidence – the court has $hit on my kids and me. (Excuse the language). So really, at this point – I am “fearless” only because I recognize that there is no right way to approach this court. I may as well be candid and honest anywhere and everywhere. Because no matter how right/wrong I am, the court still does the wrong thing… and not just in terms of my opinion – in terms of their own laws. They are breaking their own laws.

          I totally respect authority when they are not abusing my human rights and endangering my children.

        2. MamaBear

          Eric… mentally incompetent behavior SHOULD be questioned. Especially when of someone in a position of power. Good lord there is no hope for our system with people who think as you seem to. No offense.

          The judge misquoted the laws twice on transcripts…. And that is only the shallow end of how bizarre my hearing was…

          If you represent the people of Yolo county, then there is zero hope for the judicial system there. I warn everyone to get out now before you end up in court for any reason at all. Sheesh.

        3. David Greenwald


          While I respect your position, from our standpoint, we’re not simply taking sides in a custody dispute, but rather I see this case a prime example of the problems in the system – problems that previously I have heard of but could not get close enough to in order to report on.

        4. Eric Gelber

          David –

          I’m all in favor of an expose of how such cases are handled in the court system. Believe me, I’m no fan. I’m just not sure one possibly outlandish case can be used to generalize–particularly, when the information on that case is so one-sided. Gets back to yesterday’s discussion of accuracy and fairness in reporting.

          1. David Greenwald

            The article I ran based on the transcripts from the court offered both sides of the story. This was a press release from an interest group, so it’s less even-handed naturally. If Mr. Gilson or Mr. Pakpour put out their own release, I’m happy to run it too.

        5. Tia Will


          I understand your point. However, if only one side is willing to present any information, then the blog site can hardly be criticized for presenting only the information from one side. Unless you feel that no information should be presented unless the information from both sides is available, in which we case we would essentially have no Court Watch reporting. Not a good alternative in my opinion.


        6. Napoleon Pig IV

          “They might say something foolish, like questioning the mental competence of the judge.”

          Eric, I respect your defense of the disabled and mentally ill as a general principle and compassionate view of human problems and suffering. However, I see nothing at all wrong with questioning the competence of an apparently incompetent judge, nor bypassing the “justice” system to lay facts out in a public forum (free press and free speech, after all) when the “justice” system so clearly fails. There is nothing at all inherent in a judge’s robes that demands automatic respect. He or she earns respect through wisdom and action, not through power and position – just like every other individual primate walking the planet.

          I’m very glad to see David run articles and series like this. It’s good for the victims of miscarriages of “justice” and it’s ultimately good for all of use without the power to defend ourselves against government sanctioned idiocy. Therefore, I’m also highly respectful of the wisdom and guts demonstrated by MamaBear in gathering the tools she needs to protect her family. Sometimes one has to understand that there really is no such thing as a fair fight once the fight really starts.

          Go MamaBear!

      1. Delia .

        Mama Bear, I meant it when I wrote that you are in my prayers. I’d like to share with you my own experience some day, to show you that you are not alone. Suffice it to say that other counties have older judges who may need to realize they are not as sharp as they used to be. My experience was not in Yolo.

        1. MamaBear

          Thank you Delia, I appreciate that. I cannot imagine a more mentally exhausting job than being a judge. I do not think it is prudent to bring retirees back to the court room for contested cases involving children… for several reasons.

    1. Delia .

      I tried to edit this but was not quick enough. I should have written “some” DA professionals. I didn’t mean to imply all are arrogant, or self righteous.

  13. MamaBear

    Eric Gelber- let me clarify. Not all county employees – the ones involved in my custody case. They have broken numerous laws and ignored a preponderance of credible evidence.

    My suggestion that Judge Jonhson may be in the early throes of mental deterioration is just my own desire to believe most people are inherently good. Otherwise, knowing the full background of my case – his behavior and reversing of all the orders in place by Judge White are totally inexcuseable.

    I say maybe he’s just got a case of the old and senile… since he IS retired. Others would say he is evil, legalized mafia etc.

    No one with an active right mind would call his actions that of a good judge. It would be an insult to good judges.

    If being honest ruins my credibility, then I don’t much value the appraisers.

  14. Marina Kalugin

    I like Judge Johnson….he may just have some crazy rules aka “CA laws” now which he has to follow..

    fortunately, for my day on jury duty last year, I came with 2 inches thick of documents why I needed to be excused….all three cases were dismissed while I sat there.

    of course, I would only have to share a few stories of what happened to me, what happened to each of my sons, the fact that my stepson is a  NJ state trooper, and assorted other stories, no-one would take me..

    they accepted my younger brilliant son for a jury trial that was supposed to be a day long trial…   last year..just a few weeks before I showed up…..he was brutally honest and they they took him anyway on a DUI case…in Yolo county….dumbies…  it took 4-5 days instead, and guess what it was 11- 1   – he could not be convinced within a reasonable doubt that the Woodland cops were not falsifying reports, and getting rid of evidence…

    and, why would he trust any police report ever…when that happened to him… 14 years before…

    why the hell would I ever side on the side of a prosecutor?   nahhhhh

    and so much else, but I am offtopic and likely this will get deleted or perhaps not….I don’t see the usual shills here jumping all over me…


    1. MamaBear

      I am not sure what to think of the man;

      All I know is I have spent a lot of money I do not have for an attorney I’d have never anticipated needing. That attorney fought hard to get this court to give proper consideration to my status as a DV survivor – a status that is backed by solid evidence.

      Johnson, a visiting retired Judge, brand new to my case – undid all those considerations; namely the ability for me to appear by skype to an October trial. He also was very deliberate in his desire to have my kids confiscated from me and taken back to America IF it is possible. He expressed this as a matter of punishment for my failure to comply with orders that have since been recessed to the new provisions Judge White made for me. Provisions that I invested money into a good attorney to procure… Now that is all reversed and my babies are being threatened with being objectified by this court as human collateral to force my compliance with orders that deny me any ability to feel safe.

      I know as soon as I set foot in America, if this court wants to they can destroy my children’s lives, or perhaps cost them their lives. And, based on earlier orders in this case – the court showed that it has the capacity to do just that.

      Why the obsession with wanting the blind trust of a woman who has already been terribly victimized? It just feels a little God complexish and inhumane… at the very least.

      And to sweeten the deal (sarcasm) is the DA’s insistence that I move into some public shelter in Woodland (since we have no residency nor ties to Yolo county any longer – whatsoever) and remain an outdoor prisoner in Yolo county is even more ridiculous. How bad do they want to screw up my kids? I just don’t understand this. It’s too weird. How is living in a comfortable home in Europe with the only family you’ve ever known considered traumatic but moving into a public shelter in Woodland with a ton of strangers not? Yuck.

  15. Marina Kalugin

    OMG>….just stay where you are, and the children will get a better education and so on….

    when they are of age, and what that age is  should be verified, they can return or not….

    this awful disaster should be placed in the latrine…and just move on ……

    truly, do not waste more money and so on….chalk it up to a life lesson…write  a book…. do a movie….make a ton of money off of this…live happily …move on..   🙂

    be thankful …the US is a sinking pit….be happy you have a better place to be…

    1. MamaBear

      I can say my kids and I have had a really awesome experience. Surprisingly because all logic suggests that it should have been catastrophic as I was not prepared to be here so long. I am not so much religious but I do pray a lot and I believe the prayers work, luck has favored us. I mostly just miss my grandparents and neither of them are very well right now so it hurts me to think I may not get to see them again… I promised them that I’d be back in three months and that was already hard enough. But it is what it is.

  16. Tia Will

    “endured by Eric Gilson”

    don’t you mean “inflicted by Eric Gilson?”

    What one thinks or does not think about Eric Gilson should not be the central focus of these considerations. It may be that Mr. Gilson is fully responsible for all of his actions in which case he would most likely be deemed unfit to parent. It may be that his mental illness prevents him from being a supportive spouse and father, in which case this would be doubly tragic since we currently do not have health care solutions for many of our serious mental illnesses. However, these are at most secondary concerns. The central issue in this case should be the safety and well being of the children, not Mr. Gilson’s suffering, not MamaBears suffering, not adherence to the letter of some version of the law that the current judge prefers, but the safety and well being of the children which will definitely not be best served in a shelter in Woodland nor in foster care were their mother to be placed under arrest.

    This is the first time in my memory that I have actively advocated for an individual to directly disobey a court order, and yet, here I am of the opinion that it is in the best interest of the children for her not to return with them to the US.

    Best wishes, MamaBear

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