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

American Psychiatrists Say Parental Alienation Syndrome is Not a Mental Disorder

IMG_0311 - Version 2Psychiatrists and other mental health professionals have recently debated whether parental alienation syndrome qualifies as a mental disorder. Of course, family law lawyers across North America see examples of it every day.

In my experience the circumstances that give rise to allegations of parental alienation follow three typical patterns:

1. A parent who has been a victim of spousal abuse, either physical, mental or emotional, who refuses to permit a young child’s father or mother to be alone with the child or spend quality time with the child;

2. A parent who harbours extreme anger at his or her partner for events that took place during the marriage or after its breakdown. This parent involves his or her children in the minutia of the marriage breakdown and creates a picture of their father or mother as an uncaring “rogue” who is abusive, cheap and doesn’t care about them. Every nuance of the marital separation is fodder to denigrate the parent who has left the family unit;

3. A parent, usually a mother, who believes that her children belong to her and since her spouse has left her, he has no right to see the children. This parent typically enlists support from friends and relatives who all subscribe to the mother’s theory of parenting after marital breakdown.

Obviously there are situations where the custodial parent’s protection of a child is warranted. For example, where a parent has no parenting skills, or is generally unreliable or disinterested, steps must be taken to ensure the child is not at risk.

Parenting skills can be learned and most jurisdictions offer free classes on parenting after separation. A parent who is unreliable must have structured parenting time with his or her child until the parent understands that children require consistent and reliable relationships, particularly after marriage breakdown.

Even for parents who have only a passing interest in their children, it is the child’s right to have a relationship with each parent and a custodial parent is acting in their child’s best interests if they foster a relationship between their child and the child’s “occasional” father or mother.

The harder cases are ones where the parent seeking parenting time is debilitated by substance abuse or alcohol, mental illness or other anti-social behavior. Even in these cases, where a parenting arrangement can be put in place that ensures the child is not at risk, children do better with two parents in their lives. These scenarios call for supervised access with a trustworthy friend or relative or a trained, paid access supervisor.

Frequently, people who make lousy husbands or wives are wonderful, caring parents. A bad marriage marked by abuse does not necessarily translate into an abusive parent. However, where there has been abuse in the family, a psychological assessment of the family members is necessary.

Angry, vengeful parents who interfere with a child’s relationship with his or her other parent victimize their former partner, but worse yet, they set their child up for future failure. European studies show that children who are victims of parental brainwashing are more likely to suffer from emotional disorders than children who are not alienated from a parent.

As a family law litigator I have seen both sides of the coin: Mothers and fathers who refuse to recognize that their child needs his or her other parent; and parents who are tormented to the point of emotional and financial bankruptcy, desperate to restore relationships that should never have been severed.

The American Psychiatric Association, who will update their manual of psychiatric diagnoses in 2013, have recently decided against including parental alienation syndrome as a psychiatric disorder, a decision that will no doubt be greeted with disappointment by parent victims of this terrible behavior.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Toddler’s Death During Access Leads to Lawsuit Against Psychologist

GEO#1Prince McLeod Rams was 15 months old and on his fourth unsupervised access visit with his father, Joaquin Rams. It would be the last day of Prince’s short life, as during the three-hour visit, he drowned in his father’s bathtub.

Hospital staff became immediately suspicious when they noticed a bruise on Princes’ forehead and dried blood in his nostrils. They contacted child protective services.

It would later be discovered that Prince’s father had purchased over a half a million dollars in life insurance on his son’s life, and that he was under investigation for the murder of his former girlfriend, Shawna Mason, who was shot to death in 2003.

Prince’s mother, Hera McLeod, who had sole custody of her son, had implored the Court to grant only supervised access to Mr. Rams. However, the Court determined that allegations that he ran an on-line pornography site, was a suspect in the death of his former girlfriend, and was also accused of raping a 19-year-old girl were unproven and speculative. Judge Michael Algeo called the allegations “smoke that’s been blowing that I can see through”.

Since being charged with Prince’s murder, the investigation into the death of Rams’ former girlfriend has gained traction and officials are also looking into the circumstances of his mother’s 2008 suicide, a death that some members of the Rams family believe was murder, not suicide. Mr. Rams received his mother’s life insurance, a benefit that rescued him from his dire financial circumstances.

Recently, Prince’s mother filed a lawsuit against psychologist Margaret Wong, who prepared a custody and access report that recommended Mr. Rams be allowed unsupervised access to Prince, expert evidence that was instrumental in the Court’s access decision.

While Ms. McLeod acknowledged that her son’s father was highly manipulative during their 18-month relationship, she suggested that a skilled psychologist, like Margaret Wong, should have detected his true character and focused on her son’s best interests, not her ex’s needs and desires.

Ms. McLeod tells the tragic story on her blog “cappucinoqueen”, while Mr. Rams writes his counterpoint at “KingLatte”. He insists he his innocent and that his son died of a seizure, however, the county medical examiner’s findings negate Mr. Rams’ allegations.

Hopefully, the truth will emerge at Mr. Rams’ trial later this year.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Dennis Rodman: Deadbeat Dad or Victim of Family Court?

Basketball Hall of Fame inductee Dennis Rodman has always been a “bad boy”, he of the pink hair, the garish tattoos and the multiple rings. Yes, he has five NBA championship rings, but I’m referring to his nose, ear, eyebrow and lip rings.

With his basketball career long over and his retirement from the wrestling circuit, his employment opportunities are limited to personal appearances and product endorsements. He has also picked up some pocket change in recent years from shows like The Mole, Celebrity Rehab and Celebrity Apprentice, and of late, coached a topless women’s basketball team for a New York strip club.

His multi-million dollar paycheques have gone the way of the dodo bird and he says he is broke. Unfortunately, it is alleged he owes Michelle Rodman, his third wife, from whom he has been separated since 2004, over $800,000 in child support for Dennis, ten years old, and Trinity, age twelve. At first blush you may see Rodman as a deadbeat dad, but hold on there. Things are not always as they first seem.

In Rodman’s case a California judge in 2010 made a child support order of $50,000 per month, apparently relying on his wife’s lawyer’s arguments about how much he earned. It appears that Rodman was not at the hearing. Rodman’s lawyers advised the Court they intended to challenge the child support order, but dropped the ball and missed the filing deadline. Hence, the $800,000 bill which at $50,000 a month is for about 15 months of child support.

In December 2011, the $50,000 order was decreased to a payment of $4500 per month. His lawyer says he is up to date with his current payments.

However, Ms. Rodman has already successfully sued the Worm for contempt of court in relation to the unpaid support and in May 2012 he was sentenced to three years probation and 104 hours of community service.

Later in May, Ms. Rodman alleged that her ex-husband showed up at her California home drunk and abusive. She obtained a temporary restraining order on May 30, 2012, barring him from contact with her or their children. Rodman’s lawyer maintains that anybody can show up in court and allege abuse to readily obtain a temporary restraining order.

As a result on June 22, 2012, the Court ordered that his access to the children would be supervised by an off-duty sheriff’s deputy and that he would be permitted telephone access so long as he provided his children with pre-paid cell phones.

Has Rodman’s luck changed since then? Apparently not, as his latest lawyer told the Court this week that she misunderstood that the matter of the significant arrears of support was to be argued that day. She wasn’t ready to proceed. The Judge grudgingly adjourned the hearing to October 2012 amid Michelle Rodman’s protests that the children have no medical coverage and she has no car.

Reports of Rodman’s income vary according to the source. A lawyer acting for him said his annual income was $150,000 and that most of it went to pay back taxes. His agent has reportedly said that he earns between $500,000 to a million dollars a year.

But there’s more. It seems another ex-girlfriend from Florida recently claimed that he owed her $179,000 for the support of their child. After a warrant for his arrest was issued, he settled that case in April 2012 agreeing to pay $5000 immediately and ongoing monthly instalment payments to pay off his debt.

He is also liable for a default judgment obtained by a waitress in Las Vegas who sued him for sexual assault. Rodman allegedly slapped her on her buttocks as she walked by, and in the absence of any defence for Rodman, she was awarded the sum of $225,000.

I have a tip for her. Get behind the line-up of creditors and be prepared to wait a long time.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang