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

Canadian Couple Sue Georgia Sperm Bank for Misrepresentation

DSC00507 (2)An Ontario couple were over-the-moon with delight when their first child was born. Angela Collins and Margaret Elizabeth Hanson of Port Hope Ontario had purchased sperm from Xytex Corp. in Atlanta, who touted the sperm donor as an overachiever with a 160 IQ, working on his PhD in Neuroscience Engineering.

The couple received their donor’s photo which showed an attractive man, only later did they learn the photo had been photoshopped.

Seven years after the birth of their son, Xytex inadvertently released the name of the anonymous donor to Ms. Collins and Ms. Hanson. That was when they discovered their child’s father was schizophrenic ex-convict, James Christian Aggeles, a college drop-out who had fathered 20 other children through the services of Xytex.

The couple’s lawsuit reveals that if they had known the truth about the donor’s background and medical history they would have declined. Their lawyer, Nancy Hersh, said the couple love their child but want to ensure they have the funds to properly evaluate and care for him if he is diagnosed as schizophrenic. Ms. Hersh is representing 15 other mothers in the same situation as the Ontario couple.

Collins and Hanson say they have suffered emotional and financial damages and are suing for fraud, negligent misrepresentation, breach of warranty, and unfair business practices.

According to John Hopkins Medical School, research data shows that schizophrenia affects about 1% of Americans. If a parent has schizophrenia, there is a 10% chance their child will be similarly afflicted.

Canadian couples are forced to use offshore sperm banks as Canada has only one national sperm bank, Toronto’s Institute for Reproductive Medicine, and they have only 51 active donors. Two small clinics in Quebec have several donors but only operate locally.

It is reported that there is a need for donor sperm for more than 5,500 inseminations per year in Canada, 3,000 of those for lesbian couples.

Spokesperson, Wendy Kramer, for the American non-profit “Donor Sibling Registry” says there is little regulation or oversight in the sperm bank industry allowing donors to get away with saying whatever they want about their personal and medical histories.

With the number of women requiring donors, it surely is time for proper protocols to be legislated to protect vulnerable women, eager to have a child.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Mother Fakes Child, Dupes Father, and Goes to Jail

GEO CASUALJohnna Loreen Vandemore of Iowa has nothing to be proud of. A woman so greedy she faked the birth of a child and inveigled her former lover to believe he was the father.

Only there was no child.

Ms. Vandemore created the fraud by telling her 2007 fling that as a result of their brief relationship he was the father of her baby. She provided him with a forged birth certificate from a non-existent hospital, and a photo of the child, using a picture of her cousin’s baby.

The alleged father, who lived in Minnesota, stepped up to the plate and began paying Ms. Vandemore $1,000 per month, sending extra cash for holidays and the child’s birthday.

As the money rolled in Ms. Vandemore’s husband queried her about her finances. She lied to him telling him it was profit from selling nutritional products online.

Vandemore’s scam was successful for six years. She received over 90 payments totalling $100,000. This week she was sentenced to 18 months in prison and ordered to reimburse her duped victim the payments he had made.

Vandemore’s defence lawyer, Donovan Robinson, is as disingenuous as she, telling the court that Vandemore initially believed she was pregnant, and that her victim bore some responsibility, after all, if he had requested to see the child he would have discovered he was being swindled. Of course, Mr. Robinson assured the court he was not victim-blaming, saying:

“These things are not intended to foist responsibility on the victim, but, to show the ease with which a house of cards could have been toppled.”

Vandemore and Robinson are a matched pair. I’ve heard that clients hire lawyers that reflect their values. You don’t say?

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

The Misery of Hoarding

BarristerHe shuffled into my law office for his 10 am appointment, his shoulders were hunched over and he looked completely defeated. I asked what brought him in to see me and he quietly removed some photographs from a yellow envelope and set them up like a slide show on the desk in front of me.

I had never seen anything like it. A living room, a kitchen, a bathroom, all piled to the rafters with newspapers, junk mail, pizza boxes, dirty laundry, bags of garbage, kitty litter and much more. A trail through the house, no more than a foot wide, was left open as a passage way. In one photo a little girl in a pink dress sat smiling, leaning on a tower of junk.

He was embarrassed as he told me that his wife had transformed their home into a waste pit, that she wouldn’t or couldn’t stop accumulating stuff, refusing to throw anything away, and he was worried sick about his three-old daughter.

He said he loved his wife but believed the home environment was hurting his little girl. He asked me whether he should take his daughter and move out.

I was stymied. This was long before television turned hoarding into a spectator sport and intuitively I knew his wife’s behavior was an extreme form of obsessive-compulsive disorder.

I sent the photos to a child psychologist and asked his opinion. I expected him to tell me that my new client had a legal and moral obligation to rescue his daughter from the chaos of their home. But he surprised me. He said that removing the little girl from her home and her mother would only increase her anxiety, for after all, what she knew was a crowded, dirty, infested home.

My client got his answer and I didn’t see him again.

I didn’t question the psychologist because after all, he was the expert. But later, after scanning Kimberly Rae Miller’s book entitled “Coming Clean”, her personal story of her childhood, I wondered how that little girl was, the one in the pink dress.

Author Miller describes her wretched childhood: the rats, the bugs, the insecurity she felt as a result of her parents’ activities. Her mother was a compulsive shopper, her father a hoarder, and between them her life was isolated, secretive, and shameful. In her late teens Ms. Miller had a breakdown, overdosing on pain killers. That’s when she finally left home and began living in her car. Yes, a car she vacuumed every day.

Family law lawyers see the best and worst of domestic life. That day I saw the misery of hoarding.

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