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Just an (Extreme) Example of Why Parents Should Work Out Custody and Not Let Judges Make the Decisions

AAEAAQAAAAAAAAdBAAAAJDFiZjU1MDdjLTVhOGQtNGU2Yi1iYjllLWY3M2I1YTdhZjlhNg[1] Last night I happened upon an episode of 48 Hours entitled Dear Savanna…
As any self- respecting person who has happened to spend more than one Saturday night watching television since 1988, 48 Hours focuses on investigative crime mysteries. This past Saturday was no exception.

The “crime” centered on a woman, Dorothy Lee Barnett, who fled the United States in April of 1994 with her then baby girl, Savanna. Ms. Barnett’s and Savanna’s (who, since 1994, has been known as Samantha) where about eluded the FBI for over two decades, until she was tracked down in Queensland, Australia in 2011. Since then she was extradited the United States, stood trial, served time and is now free.

During the episode, Samantha, who is now 23, was on camera extensively, reading from a diary her mother kept from the time she was a baby, explaining her flight from the United States and why she did it.

What I found disturbing in this episode was the reason that the woman fled to Australia in the first place. According to the show, the catalyst to Ms. Barnett’s (who changed her name to Alex Geldenhuys) departure was a nasty divorce, wherein, at the end, the Judge awarded full custody to Savanna’s father. According to the program, the husband, Benjamin Todd, claimed his wife was abusive, unstable and bipolar, and the judge ultimately awarded sole custody to Mr. Todd, with Ms. Barnett having supervised visitation.

Perhaps Ms. Barnett/Geldenhuys did have a violent past. However, the lengths that the parties went to in court, and an ultimate ruling by a judge, created such havoc that instead of the father having sole custody, he lost his daughter for two decades! As Michael Brooks said, “desperate people do desperate things.” Effectively kidnapping one’s child, changing one’s identity and moving to the other side of the world surely fits that scenario.

Savanna/Samantha stated that she had nothing but a loving upbringing by her mother. No vestiges of the abusive and unstable individual that was portrayed in the divorce court came to fruition. But Mr. Todd lost out on participating in and watching his daughter grow into a young woman. In the past year, father and daughter have since met. Samantha said the meeting was “good.” Perhaps they will have a relationship into the future, but nothing can replace the lost past.

So the moral of this story, is quite simple…Parents separating who have to decide timesharing (a/k/a custody) STOP FIGHTING…Work it out. None of us were or are perfect parents, but each has something to bring to the table. I bet, in retrospect, Mr. Todd would have been happier sharing custody with his daughter with Ms. Barnett, rather than missing out on his daughter’s entire childhood. They let a judge determine their future with their children, but the judge did not anticipate the end results in that case.

Work it out folks…Let that be a lesson.

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