Almost two years ago, just a month before my son was killed as the result of a Family Court disaster, I heard about what happened to Kelly Rutherford’s children. Reading Kelly’s story terrified me. Here was a woman who was so successful, someone who most would assume could wield tremendous political power, and someone whose financial success could far rival your average American. Even with all these things, she still lost her children in what seemed to be one of the most blatant attacks against the civil rights of a child that I had ever seen. While many people likely went about their day as usual after hearing her story, maybe chalking this up as just another celebrity divorce in the news, I was glued to the news and terrified. At the time, I was still in Family Court. I wondered what a decision like this meant for my son’s future, when it was clear that the civil rights of children did not matter at all.
For those who don’t know the story, what it boils down to is that Kelly’s children were forced to leave their country to live in France with their father. The strange thing about this story is that the children are not French citizens, they are American. A California judge believed that since their father could no longer return to the United States, due to some sort of attempted visa fraud, they would have to go live with him. This judge made the decision that their father’s parental rights were more important to the rights of these children to remain in their home country. What also seemed bizarre was that the judge believed the decision to send the children to France would allow for equal parenting.
There are two reasons I chose to write about this case this week. One is because Kelly has filed an emergency petition with the US District Court asking the Attorney General and the Secretary of Homeland Security for a temporary restraining order to keep her children in the US. The second is that I believe this case exposes many terrible realities that is exist in our broken Family Court system.
1) Money Doesn’t Always Mean Power: Lawyers will eat you alive financially in Family Court. They will take every penny you have, and the battle will continue until you don’t have two pennies to rub together. I spent my entire life savings, my entire 401k, and the majority of my salary for 15 months trying to save my son. Nearly two years after my son has died, I am still paying off the debt I acquired trying to pay attorneys. Kelly has been very public about how, even though she acquired huge financial success in her acting career, her Family Court battle forced her to file bankruptcy. The bottom line here is that no matter how wealthy you are, Family Court will ruin you.
2) Children Are Objects – Not People: No matter what state you live in, Judges typically like to split children in half. In many cases, it appears as though the easiest decision is just to tell people to “share” by awarding joint custody. While this judgement might make perfect sense for parents who live in the same community, and in situations where both parents are healthy and have the best interest of their children at heart, this is not realistic for many families. If children were viewed as people, vice objects, judges would more often try to make judgements that would be comfortable for the children and not just what is convenient for parents. For example, in Kelly’s case, since the father couldn’t travel to the US, the judge decided it would be better for the father if the children relocated with him. The children had been raised in the United States, however, this judge believed it make more sense for the family for the children to be uprooted and moved with their father.
3) One Size Fits All: This lesson is similar to the one above. What I find extremely disappointing about Family Court is that despite the billions of dollars of taxes and family contributions, the court still seems to have an inability to cater decisions. Sawing children in half never works, however, this is often what happens when you try to apply current laws to “outside the box” cases. Most divorces and custody conflicts ends with some sort of amicable agreement between two parties. It is only the most contentious cases that end up in court, and most of the time these cases include someone who intends to legally abuse the other party. Kelly’s case highlights this “one size fits all” mentality in the court, as it appears here that the judge just tried to force a 50/50 custody situation on two people who weren’t even able to remain in the same country.
Just the other day, when I heard that Kelly had filed an emergency order to try and keep her children in the United States, all the anxiety that I remember from my own Family Court War came rushing back to me. I remember the panic I felt every time I had to turn my son over for a visit. I distinctly remember the last night my son was alive. I was trying to think of a million and one ways to keep him with me the next day instead of sending him for the visit, fully knowing that if I did I would likely get criminally charged for disobeying a court order.
I know there are people who read about Kelly’s story, and think that what she is doing is extreme. I, however, read her story and see a mother who is willing to fight tooth and nail with every fiber in her body to protect the rights of her children. She is trying to be a mother, even though her own country has told her she has no right to keep her children safe. I pray that Attorney General Holder will take notice, and I pray that he will take a stand. I pray he will stop the injustice that is evident in this case. I pray he will allow these American citizens to remain in their home country – that he will allow their mother to take care of them.