Celebrities to some people are these perfect people, almost not real, untouchable, who live lavished lifestyles, have more money than they can spend, houses big enough to fit 10 families, yachts, exotic vacations, etc. However, when one of these idolized celebrities faces a Judge in a court custody battle, the Judge does not see an A-lister, award-winning actress, multi-platinum singer or Super Bowl ring on their finger. The Judge sees them and expects them to be in one role only at that time: a parent. Just like the Judge would see you, me or any of our clients facing a custody fight in court. And whether you are a celebrity or not, violating a child custody court order as a parent is just that: a violation. Period.
A custody case involving actress Kelly Rutherford is a perfect example of the consequences a parent can face if they violate a court order. She has been in a long and painful custody battle with her ex-husband, Daniel Giersch, over their two children. Since Giersch was not a US citizen and he was having issues with his visa for entry into the United States, the Judge in a California court granted residential custody to the father. In essence, the children were to live with him in Monaco until he was able to resolve his visa issues for re-entry into the US. The courts, including Colorado courts, will always attempt to encourage healthy and meaningful relationships between parents and the children, unless danger to the children exists. In this case, as it has been reported, since the father was not able to travel to the US to visit them, the Judge decided it would be in the best interest of the children for them to live in Monaco and for Rutherford to visit her children there, since she had the financial means to do it. Accordingly, the children could then have a relationship with both parents.
However, this is where everything started going downhill for Rutherford. After spending approximately three years visiting her children in Monaco, it not only took a toll on her financially, but also emotionally and mentally as well. She attempted to file for modification of the custody order. However, since years have gone by since the last hearing and the children no longer lived in California, and Rutherford was now living in New York, the California judge ruled that this court no longer had jurisdiction over the case - meaning it could not modify or change custody arrangements. To make matters worse for the actress, when she attempted to file paperwork in the New York court, the New York judge decided that Monaco was the most proper location for the custody fight since the children had been residing there for so long. The next decision that Rutherford made is what most likely cost her the custody of her children, at least for some time.
During the summer of 2015, when the children were visiting Rutherford in Manhattan pursuant to the court Order granting her summer vacations in the US, Rutherford made a decision not to return the children at the end of the visit in violation of the court Order. She claimed that the children did not want to go, that one of the children was crying and her son even stated that he was afraid. However, there was no evidence that the children were in any kind of danger from their father or that they were exposed to any type of abuse in Monaco. Rutherford is most likely a very good mother who loves her children very much and just wants to be with them in her own home. But this is not a good enough reason, in the eyes of the court, to violate a court Order and take matters into your own hands against a direct order from the court, without any justification. Naturally, Giersch’s attorneys filed the proper paperwork in the New York court, which now does have proper jurisdiction to make a ruling on the violation of the Monaco court order, and the Court ordered the children back to Monaco to live with their father. The decision to violate the court Order will come back to haunt Rutherford for a long time and has most likely ruined her chances of gaining residential custody of her children for some time.
Colorado courts will always put the children first in any custody battle. The standard of “in the best interest of the child” is applied in Colorado courts and parents facing a custody battle need to understand that this standard will be applied by the Judges, especially when facing a violation of the current court order. Unless a parent can show that it was in the best interest of the child to violate the court order and that the child was going to be harmed in some way if the court order is followed, that parent will face contempt claims before the court and will have to face the consequences. A parent also has to understand that simply believing that the order is not fair, or that the children do not want to obey the order, is not a justification for violating the order. The situation has to be such that if the court order is followed, it would harm the child, put the child in danger, or something of the like. As we saw in Rutherford’s case, children not wanting to go back to Monaco is not a good enough reason to justify the violation. Colorado judges will most likely tell that parent that the child is the child and the parent is the parent: the child doesn’t get to tell the parent what’s best for them; it’s the parent that should know better.
One aspect of court orders that most people don’t realize exists is that unless the judge states otherwise, every parent is expected to facilitate and support the other parent’s access and relationship with the child. As already stated above, courts (including Colorado) will place high importance on both parents developing relationships with the child and if one of the parents not only refuses to support that development and assist in facilitating it, but deliberately interferes with it, the court will most likely find that parent to be in a violation of a court order. Many people don’t think about this aspect of the violation, because they are only focused on the written part of the order and exactly which language and portion did they violate. But for the Colorado judges, it goes deeper than just the written language. It shows the judge that by violating a court order regarding the child’s custody arrangements, that parent deliberately interfered with the child’s right to develop and nurture the relationship with the other parent and that will never be seen by the judge as in the best interest of the child (unless circumstances stated above exist to justify the violation).
A court order is an order. Not an option, not a suggestion, but an order. And violating it is a violation. It doesn’t get more complicated than that. Keep in mind that there is more to the order than just the written language: facilitating healthy relationship between the child and the other parent is always the order of the court. To put it in the simplest terms, if you are thinking about violating a custody court order, just don’t.
If you are facing a custody battle or need assistance in other areas of family law, please contact the domestic team at Feldmann Nagel Margulis.