When not actively engaged in a custody proceeding, our lawyers monitor the legal and popular press for interesting cases. This week, the incredible custody battle of Gossip Girl actress Kelly Rutherford caught our attention.
This sad case has everything: million dollar divorce lawyers, a pricey detective, a working bi-coastal actress mother, a European businessman father, a case in LA, a case in New York City, bankruptcy, restraining orders, State Department involvement, a White House plea, and two very well-traveled young children.
While Rutherford was pregnant with their second child in 2008, the briefly married couple filed for divorce in Los Angeles County, California. The father, German business entrepreneur David Giersch, sought sole custody and the couple began a protracted battle over labels like legal custody and physical custody.
This label battle soon began to take on real-life dimensions when Rutherford sought to move the toddlers to NYC where she was filming a season of Gossip Girl. Father objected on grounds that the actress' job was detrimental to their children and that NYC was unsafe.
When Rutherford believes she is being followed by Giersch, she obtains an injunction; a protective order. She alleges Giersch is abusive during parenting exchanges. She hires a detective to surveil father for three days; for his part, Giersch denies the allegations of abusive conduct.
In August 2012, the family court judge orders the children to live with their father in France and Monaco. This ruling was affirmed a year later and the children left for Europe last week to live, permanently, with their father.
Along the way, Rutherford has spent over a million dollars on divorce lawyers and private investigators, has filed for bankruptcy, and more recently submitted a petition to the White House asking that the president get involved in her case.
So what goes into a family court judge's calculus in relocating two American children to Europe? One of the major sticking points seems to be the mysterious revocation of father's visa, barring him from entry into the U.S. Some say Rutherford was behind the move, accusing her ex-spouse of running guns and drugs across international boarders.
Another problem for mother was the judge's dim view of her credibility; in the opinion, the judge pointed to mother's lack of candor relative to testimony about her work schedule and other important matters. If Rutherford did arrange to get Giersch's visa revoked, she shot herself in the foot to the extent that she basically forced the judge's hands.
Change of domicile cases are among the most disruptive scenarios to occur in family court; they are much more prevalent in our mobile society.
Further, once the relocation was affirmed, the LA County family court washed its hands of the entire case, ruling that it no longer had jurisdiction over the matter. Oddly, this did not occur before that court strangely awarded Rutherford temporary sole custody over her children, perhaps as a gesture to allow mother to "say goodbye".
From there, Rutherford recently re-filed in NYC. It was Gotham from which the children departed last week for Europe.
Although she has free access to conduct parenting time when in Monaco, the mechanics of Trans-Atlantic parenting and the lack of an enforcement mechanism are daunting, even for a famous actress. So for now, lives lay in ruin at the hands of two famously warring parents.
In such cases, there is very little that a family court can do to patch such a yawning rift. If you are facing custody and parenting troubles, consider giving our law firm a call to schedule a free consultation.