In 1994, 10-month-old Savanna Catherine Todd from South Carolina disappeared with her mother while her parents were embroiled in a highly-publicized divorce and custody battle. Mr. Todd and Ms. Barnett married in 1991 but the marriage quickly crumbled, and Ms. Barnett filed for divorce before Savanna was born. In the ensuring chaotic custody battle, Ms. Barnett was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and during court proceedings, had such a difficult time remaining in her seat that the bailiff needed to stand directly behind her chair. In April 2004, during a supervised visit, Ms. Barnett disappeared with baby Savanna, and neither were to be seen again until this week.
During the past 19 years, Savanna’s millionaire father never gave up hope that she would be found. Though a judge had awarded Mr. Todd $50 million dollars in his civil suit, the money was not his primary concern – Mr. Todd wanted his daughter to be found. Mr. Todd utilized his associations with the media to publicize baby Savanna, appearing on popular talk shows and telling his story to newspapers and magazines. Now, nearly 20 years later, his wish has come true: Savanna was found on Monday. She is now a 20-year-old nursing student and living an otherwise normal life in Australia. Savanna, however, is standing behind her mother, who is currently in custody in Queensland. The United States plans to extradite Ms. Barnett and she could face more than 20 years in jail if convicted on charges of federal parental kidnapping.
Though Savanna’s story is certainly rare, parental kidnapping is very real and there are steps that can be taken to prevent custodial interference. If you suspect that the other parent may kidnap your child, you should make every effort to show the judge why you have that fear. To determine whether there is a risk of abduction, the judge will consider many factors. Some include*:
- Whether the other parent has taken or hidden the child in violation of your custody or visitation rights before or has threatened to do so;
- Whether the other parent has strong familial, emotional, or cultural ties to another state or country, including foreign citizenship;
- Whether the other parent has planned activities that would make taking the child from the state easier, such as quitting their job, selling their house, closing their bank account, applying to obtain a birth certificate or medical records, applying for a passport, and so on; and
- Whether the other parent has a history of poor parental cooperation or child abuse.
Custody issues can be very complex and even dangerous – having a knowledgeable, experienced divorce attorney by your side can prove to be invaluable. At Lonich Patton Erlich Policastri, our attorneys are prepared to help clients through their divorce. If you have any questions about your divorce or custody issues, please contact our California Certified Family Law Specialists (as certified by the State Bar of California Board of Legal Specialization). Our attorneys have decades of experience handling complex Family Law proceedings and are happy to offer you a free consultation.
Please remember that each individual situation is unique and results discussed in this post are not a guarantee of future results. While this post may include legal issues, it is not legal advice. Use of this site does not create an attorney-client relationship.
*Cal. Fam. Code § 3048(b)(1)