Michael Chekevdia has custody of his son, but with the end of the criminal case against the boy’s mother, the question arises “For how long?” Read the latest here (San Antonio Express-News, 9/20/11).
Back in 2007, Shannon Wilfong abducted her son by Chekevdia during a custody dispute and shortly after Chekevdia had been granted temporary custody. The boy was five years old at the time. For two years, she hid the boy in a 5 foot x 12 foot crawl space in her mother’s house.
The home’s windows were blocked off with shades or other items, and a judge found the boy was deprived of contact with peers, medical care and education. Testimony later revealed the boy was allowed outside only at night or in a fenced-in area not visible to passers-by.
The child lived most of his life indoors. He didn’t attend school. His social life consisted almost exclusively of contact with his mother and grandmother.
Meanwhile, his father searched frantically for him. Two years after his abduction, he was found in his grandmother’s home and placed first in foster care and then gradually returned to his father. Chekevdia is a former police officer and a lieutenant in the Illinois National Guard.
It took months for him to be permanently reunited with his son. That’s because Wilfong, once she was apprehended, claimed he’d abused him. No evidence of abuse by Chekevdia has ever been produced and no court, police agency, medical provider, child welfare agency or indeed anyone else has ever found him to have abused his son.
Wilfong and her mother, Diane Dobbs were each charged with various criminal offenses, and those have finally reached an end with a plea bargain.
Shannon Wilfong, 32, pleaded guilty Monday in Franklin County to five misdemeanors, including obstructing a peace officer. Wilfong was sentenced to $1,500 in fines and 30 days in jail — a judge credited her with time she already has served — on that count and fines of $100 on each of four counts of unlawful interference with child visitation.
Wilfong’s mother, Diane Dobbs, also pleaded guilty to obstruction and escaped additional jail time when the judge credited her with the 12 days she’d already been behind bars. Dobbs, 53, was fined $1,000.
I’d say those sentences send a definite message. It goes something like this: “Parental child abduction is no big deal. We’d prefer that you not do it, but if you do, the consequences to you will not be serious. So by all means abduct your child. You might not get caught and if you do, all we’ll give you is a tap on the wrist.”
The prosecutor that agreed to that plea bargain and the judge who approved it might want to read some of the science on parental child abduction that pointedly calls it child abuse. If they had, maybe they’d have taken Wilfong’s abuse of her son more seriously. As it stands, they’ve told Wilfong and all other mothers thinking about doing what she did, that they might as well go ahead.
The scientific literature on parental child abduction is not ambiguous. It clearly shows that children abducted by their parents are profoundly affected by the experience. That’s for a number of reasons. One is the personality of the abducting parent who tends toward the narcissistic desire to have the child all to herself and to have the child live entirely for the parent.
A parent like that is going to be a problem for any child whether abducted or not. But the fact that abducted children lose all their other sources of support and stability makes the situation far worse. They no longer go to the same school, associate with the same friends, attend the same church, doctor, etc. Abducted children lose their extended families. They have to hide out, and come to see every person other than the abducting parent as a potential threat. Perhaps most importantly, they lose the non-abducting parent.
In short, it’s no way for a child to live and not surprisingly, abduction can have profound and long-lasting emotional/psychological consequences for the child.
I suppose none of that occurred to the prosecutor or the judge. My guess is they missed the irony of the situation too. Shannon Wilfong claimed she abducted the child to prevent his abuse by his father; that abuse never happened, but by abducting the boy, she abused him. Her abuse of her son lasted two years, a long time in the life of a five-year-old.
Shannon Wilfong punished Michael Wilfong for two long years. Once caught, the legal system punished her barely at all.
As if to reinforce the message that parental child abduction shouldn’t be taken very seriously, it looks like Wilfong will be able to have visitation with the boy in the near future.
Dobbs said the case’s “dragging on” in court spurred Monday’s guilty pleas, which she said would allow Wilfong to seek visitation with the boy she hasn’t seen in four months.
“She wants to start getting a life with her son,” the (Carbondale) Southern Illinoisan quoted Dobbs as saying. “We just want Shannon and (the child) reunited.”
My guess is that she won’t have much trouble. Once that happens, the ways are many in which she can marginalize Chekevdia in the life of his son, and they’re all nice and legal too. A couple of spurious allegations of child abuse, coupled with demands for maternal custody should do the trick.