When I first began law practice, too many years ago to tell, I worked in a firm with a senior attorney who did criminal law. One of his not-altogether-tongue-in-cheek remarks about his clients was “How much justice can you afford?” He was simply acknowledging the fact that the more money you have, the better off you are in court.
Now two cases illustrate the point nicely.
The issue of child custody between Miami Heat star Dwyane Wade and his ex-wife, Siohvaughn is finally being litigated in a Chicago courtroom. Read about it here (Chicago Tribune, 10/15/10). The takeaway? If you’re a dad who’s really rich and famous, you’ve toed the behavioral line and your wife has behaved really badly, you can probably get custody of your kids.
Anyone who’s observed Dwyane Wade knows that he’s a very soft-spoken man. He comes across as gentle and thoughtful. He and his ex have two sons about whom their custody fight is raging. Luckily for Dwyane, Siohvaughn has behaved not only badly but stupidly, and the judge has noticed. Siohvaughn’s penchant for not showing up in court and not abiding by court orders finally got the judge’s dander up earlier this summer.
Not only that, but the attorney ad litem who was appointed to represent the children’s interests has recommended that their hoops star dad get sole custody at least until such time as Siohvaughn gets therapy and is pronounced fit to return to their lives. Wade has indicated that, during his times away from home with the team, he intends to recruit his sister to help care for the children along with a nanny.
I’m glad Dwyane Wade looks like he’ll probably get custody. He looks like a caring, down-to-earth, responsible dad. But, due to his star status and some of the more inflammatory claims made by his ex, the case is big news. As such, people pay attention to it; I hope they don’t get the wrong idea. I hope they don’t conclude that all fathers have to do is what Wade has done – i.e. be responsible and caring – and they’ll get custody of their children. That works well enough if you’ve got the do-re-mi, but for the 99.99% of men who aren’t as well off as Dwyane Wade, life in divorce court is another matter altogether. Glad as I am to see a deserving man remain a major part of his children’s lives, I’d hate for his case to give people the wrong idea about the realities that fathers face in family courts.
That brings us back to Ken Thompson here (Sydney Morning Herald, 10/14/10). He’s the Australian dad who’s ex-wife kidnapped their son Andrew who was three at the time. She absconded to Europe over two years ago and lived clandestinely until recently when she was caught trying to enroll Andrew in a school in the Netherlands. For months before that, Thompson had ridden his bicycle thousands of kilometers around Europe trying to locate, and publicize the kidnapping of, his son.
The last time I posted about Thompson, his ex, Melinda Stratton, had been arrested and Andrew had been placed temporarily in foster care pending being returned to him. So all was well, right? Not so fast there. Now it turns out that Stratton is still interfering with Thompson’s custody of Andrew – from jail!
She’s apparently charged with some form of kidnapping or interference with custody, but the article suggests that Thompson’s ability to return to Australia with Andrew depends on her agreement. That would be a function of Dutch law, with which I’m not familiar, so I’m just going on what the article says.
Not only that, Stratton has, once again, charged Thompson with child abuse.
Ms Stratton’s lawyers have served Mr Thompson’s legal team with notice of a summons, seeking an investigation by the Dutch Child Protection Board into allegations of abuse made against Mr Thompson. Australian investigations have dismissed the accusations.
Now, those charges were long ago investigated by Australian authorities and found to be baseless, but no matter. Stratton has resurrected them and is using them, so far successfully, to continue to keep Thompson separate from Andrew. (His sole access to his son so far consists of three-a-week visits.)
Eventually, the Dutch government will acknowledge that the allegations against Thompson have already been investigated. They’ll realize that he is innocent of his ex-wife’s charges. Eventually Ken Thompson will be reunited with his son. How long that will take, I have no idea. Until then, Thompson says,
”Any attempt by Andrew’s mother to subject Andrew to even more investigation instead of working with me … to have him returned to Australia as quickly as possible is simply another form of abuse,” he said.
True. Like Wade, Thompson is a straight-up kind of father with nothing in his background to raise suspicion. And however badly Siohvaughn Wade has behaved, Melinda Stratton has done a thousand times worse.
Still, Thompson’s just a humble employee of his local fire brigade, or was before he retired to go find his boy. He isn’t a rich, famous and well-loved basketball star, and that’s too bad. If he were, he could probably have solved all of this a long time ago by resort to private detectives and a brace of high-priced lawyers. But Thompson’s just a regular guy, a regular dad who can’t afford the type of justice Dwyane Wade can. So it doesn’t matter that his wife is a criminal or that she’s possibly mentally unbalanced. He’s still got to deal with the fact that the family law system is going to treat her as if her word were gold, and while it does, his son will be raised by strangers.