The Psycho Ex-Wife
ThePsychoExWife.com homepage on May 31, 2011
|Slogan||Read It and Weep|
Type of site
|Registration||Required to post (free)|
|Created by||Anthony Morelli and Misty Weaver-Ostinato|
The Psycho Ex-Wife (thepsychoexwife.com) was a blog that operated in the United States between 2007 and 2011. The site was shut down following an order by family court judge Diane Gibbons (Pennsylvania) who said that the website subjected the blogger's ex-wife to "outright cruelty" and could be harmful to the couple's children. The blogger unsuccessfully argued that the family court decision was a violation of his rights under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The case received widespread news media attention.
Starting in May 2006, Anthony Morelli and Misty Weaver-Ostinato, his girlfriend, began publicly chronicling Morelli's custody battle and grievances about Morelli's wife, Allison Morelli, on BPDFamily.com, a support group for family members of people suffering from Borderline Personality Disorder. The Morelli's had been divorced since 2004, with shared custody of their sons and Morelli was fighting his ex-wife's accusations of child abuse and other violations of the divorce agreement. Morelli and Weaver-Ostinato posted 4,500 messages at BPDFamily.com anonymously as "Mr. M" and "mmm".
In response to increasing pressure from the moderators at BPDFamily.com to temper his aggressive and caustic style, Morelli set up his own online blog. There he wrote anonymously as "LM" and used pseudonyms (e.g. PEW for "Psycho Ex-Wife") when referring to his ex wife.
In December 2007, ThePsychoExWife.com was created by Morelli and Weaver-Ostinato.
In September 2009, Morelli and Weaver-Ostinato started a quasi-legal consultation service together, named Mr. Custody Coach, for clients going through high-conflict divorce and custody cases. Misty Weaver-Ostinato had previously sold quasi-legal consultation services (bankruptcy filings) and had been shut down by the Federal Bankruptcy Court in North Carolina for fraudulent, unfair and deceptive acts and for practicing law without a license.
ThePsychoExWife.com attracted an audience who shared their own divorce and custody experiences in the couple's advice column. Morelli and Weaver-Ostinato eventually expanded the website to include a members-only message board to publicly discuss divorce, child custody, borderline personality disorder, and parental alienation syndrome. Morelli started writing reviews for divorce-related books and websites for its "suggested reading" list. They also began selling advertising space on the website.
Morelli and Weaver-Ostinato claimed that within four years of its launch, ThePsychoExWife.com was attracting over 200,000 followers a month, however independent tracking services like Alexa showed a significantly a smaller audience.
Controversial Editorial Content
Morelli and Weaver-Ostinato wrote thousands of controversial blog posts on this subject. Morelli claimed that he had spent $80,000 on legal expenses subsequent to the divorce fighting his ex-wife's accusations of child abuse and other violations of the divorce agreement.
According to Morelli, blogging was a healthy place to "vent" his feelings about his failed marriage, divorce, and subsequent custody battle over their two children. Amongst the more choice insults for his former partner Allison Morelli were that
"she looked like Jabba the Hut" and "suffers from Borderline Personality Disorder". "She’s on the precipice of 40 and probably looks all 50-years of it," and that she was "terroristic".
Misty Weaver-Ostinato posted that:
"Over the past 4 years I have been involved with a man who has a psycho ex wife." She stated that the ex-wife had divorced the man, but "she can't let go" and that "she has wrecked (sic) havoc on our lives and the lives of our children," and that they had gone through "3 custody evaluations, 6 false contempt petitions, 3 custody schedules, 1 psych evaluation, 1 false child abuse allegation, 2 false calls to the local sheriff's office, 4 years of parental alienation, $80,000, 1 break in, 1 case of stalking, 1 restraining order" and "FINALLY" had obtained "50/50 custody of their children". Her post said "We have fought a legal system that keeps children with their mother no matter what she does" and promised that the website would "lay it all out for you".
Morelli used the blog to publicly expose alleged harassment from his ex-wife and former in-laws with e-mail, instant messages, and voice mail.
In addition to his struggles with divorce, Morelli wrote about his frustrations with family court.
Morelli's former wife, Allison Morelli, complained about it to the Bucks County, Pennsylvania, family court. At a June 6, 2011, hearing, Judge Diane Gibbons ordered Anthony Morelli to take the website down. In that hearing and in a second hearing a week later, she said that the website statements about Allison Morelli were:
"inaccurate and denigrating" and belittled her, going beyond "venting" to "outright cruelty". She told Anthony Morelli that she might give Allison full custody of their children if he refused to close the website.
Although the parents disagreed on whether their sons had actually read the blog, the court determined their children were aware of the website. Judge Gibbons also banned him from mentioning his ex-wife or his children on any public media.
At the second hearing, Anthony Morelli contested the judge's order, arguing that it was an infringement on his and Weaver-Ostinato's freedom of speech. Gibbons told Morelli:
She additionally threatened Morelli with contempt of court. This is the second website operated by Misty Weaver-Ostinato that was shut down by court order. In 2004, Misty Weaver-Ostinato and Motherhood Media,Inc. were shut down by the Federal Bankruptcy Court in North Carolina for fraudulent, unfair and deceptive acts and for practicing law without a license.
Although ultimately forced to comply with the family court ruling, Morelli believed that his first and fourteenth amendment rights had been violated and hired attorney Kevin Handy to challenge the decision in Pennsylvania Superior Court. Handy called Judge Gibbons' order "a classic example of an overly broad and unenforceable prior restraint on free speech". He cited Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association, in which the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a California state ban on the sale of violent video games to minors, as an example of an unlawful restriction on constitutionally protected speech for the purposes of child welfare. Morelli and Weaver-Ostinato also started another website, SaveThePsychoExWife.com to raise funds for their legal defense. As of August 10, 2011, the website had raised $6,095 in donations. No accounting of Morelli actual costs were ever reported.
In Morelli, the judge did not seem to consider the implications of her order on the free speech rights of the father; instead, she considered only how the children would choose if they could and which outcome would benefit them the most. Recall the judge’s assertion that the children “don’t want to hear that dad is a bastard . . . or mommy’s a bitch because that’s someone they love, and when you say something about someone they love, you hurt them.
When looking at the courts that have ruled in favor of children’s best interests there is no clear standard for defining children’s best interests. When looking at the courts that have ruled in favor of parental free speech rights, the children’s best interests were not considered.
Robert D. Richards, founding director of Pennsylvania State University's Pennsylvania Center for the First Amendment, felt Gibbons' "did overstep her bounds a little bit" adding that even if the blog was defamatory the correct action was to sue for libel not block the speech.
Response was largely against Anthony Morelli and Misty Weaver-Ostinato with mainstream media outlets. Criticism was primarily focused on the insulting language used on the website's introduction, in which Morelli referred to his ex-wife as "Jabba the Hutt with less personality",. Morelli's hometown newspaper The Intelligencer published a particularly harsh editorial and stated that Morelli
"may have a right to embarrass and belittle his children’s mother in a very public way, but that doesn’t mean he should do it".
Both Anthony and Allison Morelli appeared on The Today Show with Amy Robach and Matt Lauer in early August; afterwards the case was discussed by Star Jones and psychiatrist Dr. Gail Saltz. Lauer said during the show that Morelli "clearly does not have the best interests of his children in mind." That same week the case was discussed on Fox News' "Kelly's Court" with host Megyn Kelly and guest panelists ex-prosecutor Jonna Spilbor and legal analyst Mercedes Colwin. The case was also covered by major U.S. and international newspapers including the New York Daily News, San Francisco Chronicle, Time and as far away as the Daily Mail in the United Kingdom.
The response from the blogosphere was not entirely negative.
Female columnists from CafeMom, The Huffington Post, Jezebel, and iVillage.com were all heavily critical of the blog. CBS Los Angeles legal analyst Royal Oakes also discussed the case commenting that "it makes the McCourt divorce look genteel by comparison".
Yahoo! Shine senior editor Lylah Alphonse who commented "the posts that Morelli and Weaver-Ostinato wrote at The Psycho Ex-Wife may have been libelous, but libel is a civil court issue, not a criminal one". Blogger Nathan Hacker of the family law firm Cordell & Cordell cited the case as a warning to avoid "going public" by releasing information about divorce and child custody cases. William Belle of Salon.com compared Morelli's behavior to that of Tricia Walsh who posted insulting videos of her husband on YouTube in order gain an advantage in their divorce settlement and her attempts to have the pre-nuptial agreement thrown out.
UCLA law professor and blogger Eugene Volokh of The Volokh Conspiracy objected the ruling both on his website, and during an on-air interview with WHYY-FM, calling the family court judge's order "a blatantly unconstitutional exercise of her authority. She’s flaunting (sic) the U.S. Constitution." Doug Mataconis of OutsideTheBeltway.com brought up the issue of a possible conflict of interest, as many of Morelli's posts dealt with his negative opinion of the family court system, and questioned if it was appropriate to take the entire blog offline rather than removing posts specifically about his ex-wife. Janet Shan of the Hinterland Gazette, a webblog on issues affecting the African American community, pointing out that the author had never threatened his ex-wife and wrote "if the gist of the posts over the four years was to express frustration with the divorce process through the courts, the emotional toll it has taken on him and his children, and the angst he feels going through the process, then he has every right under the Constitution to voice that frustration".
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