Family Law Nightmare: Alienated Teens Disappear, Mom Says She Knows Nothing

GEO CASUALLegal experts say that most spouses settle their matrimonial differences consensually despite resentment and hard feelings that linger, yet for the sake of their children and their sensible desire to avoid court proceedings and the enormous costs, life carries on and the family makes the necessary adjustments.

However, law books and judicial dockets still abound with high conflict cases where extreme positions rule and one or both parties’ hatred and anger escalates to crisis levels.

A family in Minnesota now enters Lawdiva’s “Family Nightmares” Hall of Fame. As is typical, the divorce between Sandra Grazzini-Rucki and David Rucki got off to a bad start after the first court orders Sandra obtained in May 2011, including full custody of their five children and $13,000 a month in child and spousal support, were set aside as fraudulent.

In September 2011 Judge David Knutson ordered a new trial ruling there was “sufficient evidence showing that Ms. Grazzini-Rucki defrauded Mr. Rucki and the idea that the father would agree to those divorce terms was “beyond belief””. Apparently, Ms.Rucki obtained the earlier orders by alleging her husband agreed to them.

From there it grew even uglier. Ms. Rucki now alleged that her husband had abused their two eldest daughters ages 13 and 15, who were living with her, pending the new trial. In preparation for the fresh trial Judge Knutson ordered the daughters to see psychologist Dr. Paul Reitman. In 2012 Dr. Reitman recommended the girls be put into foster care. His report to the court highlighted the mother’s tragically successful parental alienation. He wrote that the girls were “depressed and browbeaten” and required “deprogramming”.

In October 2012 Judge Knutson ordered Ms. Grazzini-Rucki to leave the family home and the girls were ordered to reside with their aunt, Nancy Olsen, who was to share temporary custody with Mr. Rucki’s sister, Tammy Love. Neither parent was to contact the children.

In April 2013 Ms. Rucki’s sister, Ms. Olsen, advised the court she was no longer able to take care of the girls and Judge Knutson ordered them to reside with their father’s sister in the family home. On April 19, 2013 the girls arrived back at the family home for several hours before they escaped from the basement of the home, never to be seen again by the court or their father.

In November 2013 the court granted full custody of the children to Mr. Rucki with supervised visitation to Ms. Rucki, necessary because “the court was concerned she would abduct the children if she is allowed unsupervised parenting time with them.” Judge Knutson found that Ms. Rucki had intentionally alienated her two eldest daughters from their father and her testimony at court about their whereabouts was “uncooperative and obstructionist”.

Mr. Rucki described the disappearance of his daughters as “worse than death” as he cares for the three youngest children on his own.

The media reported that an independent witness saw the girls get into their mother’s car after running from the family home. The girls also contacted a local television station saying they were afraid of their father. Ms Rucki continues to deny knowledge of the children’s disappearance or their current location.

Sandra Grazzini-Rucki portrays herself as the victim of a corrupted court system. Blog “Carver County Corruption” describes her dilemma:

“Since then Sandra has lost all custody of her children, her home, vehicles, assets, even her personal belonging were awarded to her ex husband. She has not been allowed to see her children in almost a year for reasons unknown. Her two oldest daughters are runaways since April of 2013 due to severe abuse by their father, therapist and court appointed custodial guardian. Judge David Knutson has violated all of Sam Grazzini-Rucki`s constitutional rights and refuses to remove himself from this case due to obvious bias to the ex husband and his lawyer.”

The girls, now 15 and 17 years old, have been gone for two years. To date, no criminal charges have been laid. As I have said repeatedly, parental alienation is the worst form of child abuse. Ms. Rucki: How on earth could this be in your children’s best interests?

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Tabloid Fame Increases Chances of Divorce in Hollywood

_DSC4179 - Version 2In a tongue-in-cheek article in the New York Times, writer John Tierney re-introduces his practically fail-proof formula, designed in 2006, for predicting the demise of Hollywood marriages, by relying on his friend, Garth Sundem’s statistical expertise, and his own in-depth literature review of articles published and sold in reading material at supermarket check-out lines. All in all a very impressive and scientific analysis!

The formula they devised includes considerations of the relative fame of the husband and wife, their ages, the length of their courtship, their marital history, and perhaps most importantly, the sex-symbol quotient of the wife, ascertained by looking at her first five google hits and counting how many of them feature either no attire, or skimpy attire.

In their 2012 New York Times update, they confirm the relative success of the “Sundem/Tierney Unified Celebrity Theory” by pointing out their accurate predictions in respect of the collapse of the unions of Demi Moore/Ashton Kuchter, Britney Spears/Kevin Federline and Pamela Anderson/Kid Rock. (Note: Also Pamela Anderson/Richard Salomon)

They also herald the success of their formula with respect to the intact marriages of Jennifer Garner/Ben Affleck and Matt Damon/Luciana Barroso. Their few failures include Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes, but time will tell. (Note: We now know they successfully predicted the Cruise/Holmes disintegration)

While they modestly don’t mention it, it seems their equation also works in respect of the relationships of Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony, Hulk and Linda Hogan, Tiger Woods and his lovely ex-wife, and so many others.

In light of their recent reassessment of their theory, they have refined certain of their criteria; the major change being the recognition that rather than reviewing Google hits, a more effective formula is measuring the number of New York Times references, divided by the number of mentions in the National Enquirer.

As they move forward with this important research they acknowledge that a wife’s tabloid fame is now probably the best indicator of the success or failure of a marriage. I’d say that Kim Kardashian’s first divorce confirms this reality and her chances of a lifetime liaison with Kanye West are exceedingly remote. Time will tell as to the fate of George Clooney and Amal Clooney…

I’m glad these guys don’t take themselves too seriously!

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Divorce Drama a Shakespearean Tragedy

DSC00280I first wrote about the mega-divorce of British couple Scot and Michelle Young in August 2013 after Mr. Young was sentenced to six months in jail for failing to pay $1 million in support. I predicted that by the time the matter went to trial he would “lawyer-up” with the best attorney money could buy! But I was wrong… Scot Young acted for himself in his divorce trial in October 2013, a move that fit his litigation strategy of “I’m broke”.

The outcome? Here’s the Young divorce, “By the numbers”:

$6.5 million Legal costs expended by Michelle Young

$5 million Legal costs ordered to by paid by Scot Young to his wife

65 Total number of court hearings

20 Days of trial

13 Sets of lawyers hired/fired/discharged by Michelle Young

6.5 Years it took to resolve the case

4 Sets of accountants hired by Michelle Young

$300 million Amount of money sought by Michelle Young

$32 million What Michelle got from the judge

10,000 Pages of court documents

6 months in jail for Mr. Young for failing to produce financial documents, but he only served three months

British newspapers reported that Michelle Young was angry that the court refused to find that her husband was hiding a billion dollar in assets and called the decision a “disgrace”. She also said her next herculean task was to collect the money she is owed.

As for the trial judge, Mr. Justice Moor remarked that the Young case was a prime example of how not to conduct divorce litigation.

While Young plead poverty throughout the divorce proceedings it was reported he purchased a six-carat diamond engagement ring for his girlfriend, British reality star, Noelle Reno.

But no one could have guessed the last chapter of this British drama. In 2014 Scot Young tragically flung himself out of a window of his $4.5 million dollar London apartment and impaled himself on the railing below. Rumours abound that his apparent suicide was in fact retaliation from the Russian mafia who he allegedly owed millions of dollars.

Mr. Young left two beautiful daughters. Even Shakespeare couldn’t have penned this modern tragedy.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Alaska Introduces Pet Custody Laws

phoenixIs it just me or does it seem there has been a pet explosion in North America? The American Pet Products Association reports that pet owners spend almost $60 billion dollars a year on pet industry products for their four-legged friends.

There certainly can be no doubt that our pets are a part of the family and like children, they are often overindulged. Little outfits, santa claus hats and hallowe’en costumes for our cats and dogs are old hat, now you can pay for pet massage, pet travel agents who arrange transportation for pets, snake-training for pets, and pet funerals.

Of course, pet owners are now also litigating who gets to keep their beloved animals upon their separation and you’d be amazed how often pets become a major issue in divorce matters. So much so that there are now lawyers who only do “pet law”.

So it is not surprising that several jurisdictions are considering amending their legislation to include laws governing pet custody after marriage breakdown.

Alaska appears to be the first state to introduce a bill that would deem “pets” to be divisible family property upon divorce, with the best interests of the pet as the guiding principle.

Representative Liz Vazquez introduced the bill, with bipartisan co-sponsorships.

The bill defines animal as vertebrates, such as dogs and cats, and specifically excludes fish.

It also would add a pet-related section to the rights of victims of domestic violence, allowing abuse victims to file a petition with the court to obtain custody of an animal living in the same household as the abuser and/or preventing the abuser from disposing of the animal. So many times I have heard stories of pets being abused, stolen, or worse, as retaliation for a relationship gone bad.

With North American’s zest for pets, these laws will likely be introduced in other states and provinces. Needless to say, pet litigation should be avoided and separating pet owners should work out a schedule to accommodate the sharing of their pet. Just like shared parenting!

PS The puppy pictured above is Phoenix, a cockapoo, age 8.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Wife Seeks Support 30 Years After Separation

GAL & PAL #2jpgImagine that you married when you were 20-years-old, had a child with your spouse and separated three years later. During the marriage you lived a peripatetic “new age hippy” lifestyle surviving on welfare benefits, with not a penny to your name.

Would you be surprised when your ex-wife, thirty years later brought a claim against you for financial compensation?

In a rags to riches tale, British entrepreneur and founder of wind farm company Ecotricity, Dale Vince, has battled his former spouse for several years to defeat her claim against him. She is asking for almost 2 million pounds.

Mr. Vince created a wind turbine from recycled materials, a venture that brought him millions of pounds and an Order of the British Empire.

Living in the lap of luxury with his second wife and their child, life was good. But not so good for his ex Kathleen Wyatt. When the marriage ended she took responsibility for their son, her daughter from a previous marriage, and went on to have two more children with her second husband, a marriage that also ended in divorce. Husband #2 also failed to provide financial support.

Ms. Wyatt approached Mr. Vince privately to see if he might be persuaded to assist her financially. He would not, and so she left the matter alone, claiming she was intimidated by his anger in response to her requests.

Her first foray into court in 2011 was successful, the lower court ruling that since the matter of support had never been settled or litigated, and given there was no statutory time limit to seek support, her claim could proceed.

Happily for Dale Vince, the English Court of Appeal disagreed with the lower court. Lord Justice Jackson said the court “should not allow people to be harassed by claims for financial relief which were issued many years after the divorce and had no real prospect of success.” The Court also noted that Mr. Vince was “the most improbable candidate for affluence.”

Alas for Mr. Vince, this week five members of Britain’s highest court, the House of Lords, overturned the appeal court’s ruling. Lord Wilson, for a unanimous court, ruled that the court must consider “the contribution of each party to the welfare of the family, including by looking after the home or caring for the family”.

Mr. Vince characterized his ex’s win as her “cashing in an old lottery ticket” however, the decision made by the Law Lords only allows her to pursue her claim. It does not guarantee her any amount of money and it is notable that the Court cautioned that it was unlikely she would receive anything close to millions of pounds.

The decision has received much media attention with Ms. Wyatt’s supporters suggesting that Mr. Vince went on his merry way unencumbered to achieve fame and fortune, while Ms. Wyatt cared for his son with no financial assistance from him.

Those who support wind-farm tycoon Mr. Vince decry the ruling saying that because Ms. Wyatt remarried and had two additional children, she should look to their father for support. They also criticize a media report that Mr. Vince has so far paid half a million pounds in legal fees, including his payment of Ms. Wyatt’s legal expenses. They protest that if she wishes to bring a claim against him, she should pay for it!

The next chapter of this litigation will be carefully watched and no doubt, appealed at every level.

As for former spouses in British Columbia, it is always dangerous to leave family matters “undone” and yes, there have been several cases where spouses have brought claims long after separation and been successful.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Meddling Friends No Help in Divorce

If you are going through a divorce you need all the support you can muster, particularly if you find yourself in the midst of the “affidavit” wars, a stage of divorce litigation where nasty allegations fly fast and furious, and usually turn out to be highly exaggerated and embellished.

It is not unusual for clients, particularly female clients, to visit their lawyer’s office with a sympathetic friend in tow, a practice that I do not discourage subscribing to the theory that friends make the burden lighter.

However, with the recent explosion of “grey” divorce, family law lawyers have noticed that the adult children of their clients are “interfering” in the process, making their jobs more difficult.

Sometimes the interference is the intentional undermining of the legal advice provided by the lawyer to their elderly parent, other times it is directed at the adult offspring’s concern about the loss of their future inheritance, or their desire to force the reconciliation of their parents, a goal that while laudable, may not be in their parent’s best interests, particularly where the marriage is marked by chronic family violence.

Whether the adult child is cajoling their parent to rewrite their will, or sending abusive missives to the parent they deem to be the “guilty” party, most of these tactics only serve to escalate the conflict between their parents.

Well-known British divorce lawyer and media commentator, Marilyn Stowe, remarks:

“A client should be able to rely upon their legal team 100 per cent. Friends (and family) play a completely different role, which is socially centred. It is free of the professional ethics, scruples, obligations, privilege and confidentiality that are the lawyer’s domain.”

Certainly, if you are paying a lawyer hundreds of dollars an hour, it is most unwise to discard their professional expertise in favour of a friend or family member, who “only wants to help”, but may have little real insight or knowledge of the process or the law.

Frankly, if you have so little confidence in your lawyer’s advice that you defer to your girlfriend, who has been through two divorces, or your son, who sees his “meal ticket” slipping away, you need to seriously consider hiring a lawyer that commands your respect.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Aged New York Husband His Wife’s Prisoner?

GEO#1Eighty-four-year old Martin Cassidy spent his career creating dinosaurs for the American Museum of National History.

His career began in 1972 when the museum was offered the articulated skeleton of a dinosaur, an acquisition that would cost $200,000, plus as much as $500,000 to send a team into the field to find, collect, pack, ship, prepare, and reassemble the gigantic beast. Realizing how financially impractical that was, his new calling began.

Over the years Mr. Cassidy and his team built life-like dinosaur facsimiles for museums around the world. It was while working at the museum that he became acquainted with New York pulp and paper billionaire and philanthropist Ira Wallach, whose charitable foundation provided funding for the famous museum.

Eventually he met Ira Wallach’s daughter, Kate Wallach, and before their 1987 marriage he signed a pre-nuptial agreement. Kate allegedly told him it was necessary to “make her family more comfortable”. Her father died in 2007 at the age of 97, and left her $200 million dollars.

During their 28-year May-December marriage they had five children. In Mr. Cassidy’s recent divorce court filing he deposed that while his wife luxuriates in their lavish $20 million dollar Long Island estate, he is relegated to a dark, dank area above the garage outfitted with a small bed and two rickety folding chairs.

There is a toilet, but no bath or shower, and he uses a nail pounded into the wall to hang his meagre wardrobe. His daily menu consists of canned soup and he receives $2,500 a month to meet his expenses.

Martin Cassidy explains in his filed affidavit that he is “literally and figuratively a prisoner” of his wife who he says is waiting for him to die so that she doesn’t have to share any of her large estate with him.

Kate Wallach’s lawyer, Kenneth, Weinstein, says Mr. Cassidy lives in a “beautiful home with surroundings he has chosen” and that his client’s husband is suffering from dementia. She reportedly does not wish to divorce.

A court-appointed guardian who is overseeing the process to determine his mental status has remarked that his living accommodation is “far from luxurious”.

In a recent court application Mr. Cassidy sought an order that his wife pay him $30,000 a month so he can move to his own rental accommodation. The Court ruled that pending the mental evaluation he should remain in the family home. His lawyer, Bettina Hindin, is appealing the order. She remarked:

“Imagine, solely as the result of being a divorce litigant, a court can force you to live with the spouse you are trying to rid yourself of.”

My observations? If the tables were turned and Kate Wallach was the victim of the circumstances described, a spousal support order would have been granted tout-suite, and probably for a lot more than $30,000 a month.

After 28-years of marriage and five children it is hard to imagine that a Court will not set aside the prenuptial agreement. In British Columbia these types of agreements are effective in short-term marriages with no children. Add years and children to the equation and they become less sustainable.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang