Playback speed
Share post
Share post at current time

Michael Volpe Investigates Podcast the Impromptu Episode 80: an Interview with Chris Tillsley

Chris has had an arduous journey through family court and the social services system; he discusses it with me.
Judge Deborah Malphrus from South Carolina is featured in another story.

Chris Tillsley is my latest guest on the podcast.

He’s had an arduous journey through the family court and social services system, but it has a happy ending.

Most remarkably, he was able to achieve victory largely representing himself.

His daughter was born in 2012.

In 2019, Chris told me that his daughter’s mother moved out and tried to disappear.

He tracked her down, and he began living with her again for a short period of time.

This was likely a mistake, but Christ told me that he had no choice.

Michael Volpe Investigates is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.

He’s from Florida, and he moved to South Carolina. He was nearly out of money and no place to live.

Then, in April 2019, his ex-girlfriend announced that she needed to get her stuff together and for Chris to take their daughter back to Florida.

Months later, his daughter’s mother showed up unannounced.

He said police were called, but without a court order, there was nothing anyone could do.

That’s when court got involved.

His daughter’s mother went back to South Carolina and filed for emergency custody.

From a report, this alludes to the sole custody she received.

These were lies, Chris told me, but more importantly, this was forum shopping.

He and his daughter had been living in Florida. There was no court order, so the appropriate place to file was in Florida.

She got an emergency order granted in South Carolina, and Chris told me he had to fight for custody two states away.

One of the first things which happened was that Addison Fender was made the guardian ad litem (GAL).

Addison Fender from his LinkedIn profile

Fender, Chris told me, showed bias throughout and caused many of the problems in the case.

I reached out to Fender by email, but I received no response.

From a report submitted by Fender

In the snippet above, Fender stated that he couldn’t be bothered to listen to hours of recordings submitted as evidence. He claimed that Chris was asked to highlight the appropriate portion, but Chris told me it never got that far.


Fender simply refused to examine his evidence.

Then, there is this paragraph.

from Fender’s report

The above paragraph is an example of how court appointees can twist facts very subtly. Chris does have a criminal history however his last criminal run in was a conviction in 2007, five years before his daughter was born.

When Fender stated, “his frequent criminal charges,” this was a twisting of facts, since it had been over a decade since he had problems with the law. Chris has struggled with drugs and relapsed in 2019, but he also passed drug tests which Fender acknowledged.

Chris told me he was a stay-at-home dad during most of the time the two were together so when Fender stated, “The investigation to date leads this Guardian to believe that Mother would have best been identified as the child’s primary caretaker during the first seven or eight years of a child’s life,” this was a dubious conclusion.

Fender claimed Chris’s daughter told him she’d rather live with her mom and recommended she get physical custody.

The court case led to five calls to Department of Social Services- January 17, 2020, December 27, 2020, June 14, 2021, August 13, 2021, and January 25, 2022- and each of them were determined unfounded.

Each called social services on each other. Chris told me that he never made a frivolous call, despite each being determined to be unfounded.

I don’t know, but most remarkably, after five unfounded allegations, social services- called Department of Social Services in South Carolina- determined both parents to be unfit and Chris’s daughter was placed into foster care.

The judge overseeing it- Judge Douglas Novak- issued a peculiar ruling.

“During the courl hearing, Judge

Novak acknowledged the court with his concerns with the minor child remaining in the home: l. There are constant concerns of DV between the mother and father in the present of the minor child. 2. That the minor child is used as a pawn between the par-ents. 3. There are concerns that the father is abusing alcohol and other drugs such as marijuana.”

This is a peculiar order because the two parents no longer live together. Secondly, Chris took marijuana for medicinal purposes, a fact acknowledged by Fender.

Still, based on these conclusions, the court took Chris’s daughter from both parents and placed her in foster care.

Judge Doug Novak, from the South Carolina court website

Chris said his fortunes changed even before his daughter was placed in foster care.

Chris decided to fire his attorney, and go pro se.

He said when he was represented evidence he had would not be presented because the attorney was required to speak for him: an attorney Chris said failed to present evidence often times.

Once he represented himself, he was able to get critical evidence in front of the judge, Chris told me.

When dealing with social services, Chris did everything he was asked.

He said he would drive six hours for visits which lasted two hours. Many parents complain that social services provide goals to reach and then moves the goal posts adding new things which need to be done to get a child out of foster care.

Chris said he never experienced that. Once a plan was put in place, social services stuck to it. He completed everything asked of him; the child’s mother did not, and he received temporary custody upon completion.

While Judge Novak was on to case for more than two years, he was removed earlier this year unexpectedly. He was replaced by Judge Deborah Malphrus.

Judge Malphrus has popped up in two prior stories: on Lee Granade’s case and Jamie Bastian. Judge Malphrus thinks that perjury is fine unless there’s a court order stating otherwise.

Chris said that Judge Malphrus came on just in time to hear the custody trial: or the most important part.

Chris told me he was ready for trial, and he issued a subpoena for Mr. Fender. Judge Malphrus was there to save Fender, who didn’t show despite the subpoena.

Judge Malphrus claimed the Chris had not paid a fee and refused to enforce the subpoena.

She then ordered the parties to go into a conference room for an ad hoc mediation session.

At that session, Chris said that his ex-girlfriend agreed to giving him permanent custody.

He said his advice to others who go pro se is to always remain calm, be detail oriented with evidence, and to always be cognizant of how they appear.

I reached out to Chris’s ex-girlfriend’s previous lawyer, Craig Poff, and this is how he responded, “As a journalist then you know I can give no comments without client (past or present) authorization.”

While he certainly cannot provide attorney/client privileged information, I have spoken to attorneys on an initial call.

Check out my interview with Angel Camino. I don’t believe he asked his client for permission.

Get more from Michael Volpe in the Substack app
Available for iOS and Android

Michael Volpe Investigates
Michael Volpe Investigates
I give voice to the voiceless with true original reporting on topics the rest of the media is too afraid or lazy to cover.