WASHINGTON, September 11, 2014 — A California family court’s questionable handling of one celebrity’s high-ticket divorce case has pushed the discussion over the link between family court corruption and child safety into the mainstream media spotlight. Much of the attention comes thanks to the efforts of celebrities affiliated with the Children’s Justice Campaign, a ground breaking new charity with a focus on placing child welfare before legal industry profits.
One might expect corrupt child custody decisions to come from corrupt patriarchies like Afghanistan or Saudi Arabia, yet the American courts are also known to run illicit businesses, placing children into the hands of predators, pedophiles and murderers.
On August 16, over 100 celebrities and professionals gathered in the Hamptons at the Water Mill estate of George and Joan Hornig to raise over $22,000 for the Children’s Justice Campaign to raise awareness about the issue.
The event was co-hosted by CJC co-founders Joan Hornig, Samantha Yanks, Lauren London and Mashonda Tifrere, who teamed up with super model Christie Brinkley. Speakers included Communities Digital News journalist Anne Stevenson and CNN legal correspondent and former prosecutor Wendy Murphy.
During their speeches, the two media and family court experts cited research showing tragic long term effects on children of a family court system that frequently places children in the care of their abusers, perhaps even in the majority of cases where allegations of child maltreatment are made.
HERMES AND HELENA’S STORY
Hermes and Helena are two brave American children who were only 5 and 3 when the California courts removed them from their fit mother’s home in New York and ordered them to live abroad with their deported father in Monaco. These days, their contact with their mother hinges not on her status as a fit parent, but on whether or not she can afford to enforce her custody rights.
Daniel Giersch is a German citizen with a documented history of domestic abuse who was deported by the U.S. government in 2013 under suspicion of criminal wrongdoing. Rutherford’s attorney, Michael Wildes says Geirsch has intentionally left these allegations unresolved with immigration authorities to ensure he retains custody of their American children in France.
Even the U.S. Department of Justice seemed taken aback by the family court’s decision to send the children to live abroad with their father. The Department recently filed a brief in Federal Court opposing Rutherford’s children’s return to their native country:
No similar case could be found where children who were born and raised in the United States were deported from their own country, where their mother still resides, to accommodate the demands of a non-citizen parent forbidden to re-enter the United States.
The problem may be that the children’s safe return to the U.S. might make the case less profitable by minimizing the dispute and the amount of billable hours the case generates for the family court industry professionals involved.
Since 2012, most of Rutherford’s time has been spent traveling to France 60+ times to see her son Hermes, age 9, and daughter Helena, age 6, or fighting in the court system to bring them home to the U.S.. This makes it impossible for her to accept regular work and pay her bills. In 2013, Rutherford filed for bankruptcy citing the aftermath of the 5-year-long custody battle and an outrageous decision by LA family court Judge Teresa Beaudet, which has left her with over $2 million in legal debt and international travel costs.
According to the NY Post, U.S. immigration authorities revoked Giersch’s visa and deported him after receiving credible allegations that he engaged in visa fraud and tax evasion. Although Los Angeles family court Judge Teresa Beaudet omitted the domestic abuse history from the final decision, the court rewarded the father for his misconduct with superior custody rights and access to the children and punished the children’s mother for a third party’s choice to report Geirsch’s alleged crimes.
Beaudet reasoned that by ordering Hermes and Helena to live abroad with Giersch, this would give their father time to reapply for a visa, which would allow him to re-enter the U.S. legally, which he has not done.
By the time the U.S. deported the father in 2012, the parents had already spent four years and several million dollars litigating shared custody in the California courts, despite the fact that the children had always resided with their fit mother in New York, which is where they attended school and where all their friends live.
Under the circumstances, it seems odd that the California courts would even accept jurisdiction over the case.
“The situation has been really hard on Hermes and Helena to be away from me, their mother, I’m not asking for anything extraordinary,” says Rutherford, emphasizing that she is seeking effective joint custody and has no desire to cut the children off from their father. “I’d just like my children to be raised peacefully by both their parents in a place that can provide them with the most optimal opportunities in life.”
PART OF A BIGGER PROBLEM
“I’m a mother. I’m always going to fight for my kids,” Rutherford told Extra. Isn’t that what any fit parent would do if their children were shipped abroad under similar circumstances? Wouldn’t the court industry count on it in order to justify the amount of subsidies it receives from the parties on cases like Rutherford’s?
Instead of blaming parents for their part in spurring on “high-conflict” litigation marathons like Rutherford’s,the Children’s Justice Campaign calls into question the competence and propriety of the judges and legal professionals who frequently lose control of their cases, an arrangement that almost exclusively benefits the industry professionals who are often paid to solve problems that they themselves create.
A 2008 study conducted by the Leadership Council on Child Abuse & Interpersonal Violence estimates that each year, the U.S. family courts order more than 58,000 children to have unsupervised contact with their identified abusers. However, this statistic may vastly underestimate the number of children ordered to live with violent and unfit parents; according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, child abuse is a largely unreported crime that is difficult to prove, and may affect as many as 1 in 4 US children.
The CDC estimates the total lifetime economic burden resulting from new cases of fatal and nonfatal child maltreatment in the United States is approximately $124 billion, but there are no studies tracking just how much of this money falls into the hands of family court industry professionals who deliberately cash in by placing children in harm’s way.
For now, Beaudet’s decision means that Rutherford’s parental rights only exist in direct proportion to her ability to pay for them, but may ultimately bankrupt and starve the mother out of her children’s life.
But do the legal industry professionals always win while children and families are left to cuts their losses at the expense of public safety? The research is clear that Kelly’s case is not an exception and that children do not win in family court.
Thanks to the Children’s Justice Campaign, the media is now asking why so many “competent” family court judges need help from dozens of high priced industry professionals to decide their cases, when those experts often can’t seem to agree with each other on much except that the millions in fees that they charge the children’s families are “necessary and reasonable”?
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