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Actress Kelly Rutherford’s Child Custody Case Offers Many Lessons for Florida Parents

gavelWhile celebrities often seem to live in a world far removed from that of everyday Americans, sometimes events remind us that music, TV, and movie stars, like the rest of us, have “real life” troubles, such as difficult divorces and messy child custody disputes. The case of actress Kelly Rutherford is one such example. Rutherford’s drawn-out, ultimately unsuccessful legal battle for custody of her two children offers some clear reminders regarding what to do (and more specifically, what not to do) in navigating the often emotional and complicated circumstances involved with sharing custody with your ex-spouse. A Monaco court late last year gave the mother, whose ex-husband already had sole custody of the children, another defeat by restricting Rutherford to exercising her visitation rights only in Monaco or France, according to a Daily Mail report. In Rutherford’s case, the mother’s own actions potentially helped lead to the unfavorable outcome for her.

Rutherford, best known for her roles in successful dramas like Melrose Place and Gossip Girl, became pregnant with her first child in 2006. That summer, she married the father, German businessman Daniel Giersch. Two and a half years later, while pregnant with the couple’s second child, Rutherford filed for divorce. In that case, Rutherford asked for sole custody. Giersch made his own court filing, in which he also requested sole custody. In 2010, a California court issued a divorce and custody order.

The case did not end there, though. The parents brought issues back before the court several times. As the dispute dragged on, several of Rutherford’s choices came back to cause potential damage to her case. With any set of parents, once a divorce is finalized, courts will expect you to work collaboratively with your ex-spouse to foster the best interests of your children and facilitate a relationship with the other parent in most situations. This means following court instructions regarding parenting plans and timesharing. It also means refraining from doing things that appear to be designed to alienate your children from the other parent. In Rutherford’s case, she delayed for a very long time in getting Giersch’s name added to the birth certificate of the younger child, despite multiple instructions from the trial judge to do so. Even worse was a conclusion by the California trial judge that Giersch had taken all reasonable steps on his end to facilitate a relationship between the two children and their mother but that Rutherford “has declined to demonstrate the level of commitment to facilitating the relationship” between the children and their father.

Another lesson from Rutherford’s case is the importance of not making unilateral decisions that run contrary to the established parenting plan that’s in place. Last summer, the couple’s plan called for Rutherford to have visitation with the children in New York, but for the mother to place her children on a plane back to Monaco (where they resided with their father) on August 5 at the end of that visit. Rutherford did not put the children on that plane, did not attempt to coordinate with the father, and did not request a modification from the Monaco court that held jurisdiction over the case. Rutherford contended that she made her choice because the children became upset and anxious about leaving New York and returning to Monaco.

While any parent can sympathize with the mother’s difficult emotional position, simply defying a court order is almost always counterproductive. A parent’s willful decision not to follow a court-ordered parenting plan may lead the court to modify that plan in a way that is even more unfavorable, due to concerns over continued non-compliance. That’s what happened to Rutherford, since her refusal later led the Monaco court to implement new restrictions on her visitation, cutting off all U.S. visits and forcing Rutherford to exercise her visitation rights only in Monaco or France.

Regardless of your level of fame or wealth, dealing with a child custody and visitation case is often difficult on many levels. Knowledgeable legal counsel can offer you significant help as you address the personal and legal complexities of your situation. When you contact Susan R. Brown, you can expect guidance from a hardworking and sensitive South Florida child custody attorney who is a Board Certified Specialist in Marital & Family Law and is highly experienced in helping families just like yours work to achieve a favorable outcome.

For an initial consultation, contact my law office online or call 954-474-9500 to learn more about how I can help.