Rutherford - Giersch GloLo Custoday Battle


Both the news and the gossip tabloids have been covering a story about American actress Kelly Rutherford who is engaged in a bitter custody battle with her ex-husband, German Daniel Giersch. They were married in 2006 and then in 2009, while Kelly was pregnant with their second child, she filed for divorce. So far it just sounds like your regulation-slightly-sordid-Hollywood-romance gone wrong, right? The reasons for divorce are unclear, however, and this is where the plot thickens. Allegations were made that Giersch, a ‘German business man’ according to Wikipedia, is a drug and weapons dealer operating in South America. Based on the to-date-unfounded accusations, Mr. Giersch was deported from the United States and has been denied the right to re-enter the country. He now lives in Monaco or France or ‘Europe’, depending on the source.

This past summer, the two Rutherford-Giersch children went to stay with their father. Rather than return to the US to start school in September, the children remained with Giersch and started school in France. A recent court decision changed the fifty per cent custody share of the children and granted the father ‘residential custody’. The ruling was made due to the fact that Giersch is forbidden to enter the US, while Rutherford is free to travel to visit the kids between shootings of her TV show. This means that the children, aged three and five, will live with him in Europe. Visiting rights in terms of time share remain unchanged however the onus of travel now lies on the mother rather than the father.

Now enter the media. The message concerning this sad family saga is loud and clear – it is illogical that American children were “ordered to live overseas to accommodate their father”. Now enter the celebrity lawyer. Alan Dershowitz, a Harvard law professor who is well known for many high profile legal battles, has taken over the case. His claim is that American children have a “right to an American education”. Now at the risk sounding insensitive – a mother has been separated from her children after all – I would like to point out the following:

The children of Kelly and Daniel are GloLo children. They have two parents with two cultures, two countries and two languages, and in this case there is a third country and language involved because the father lives in France (or Monaco or Europe). For the moment, let’s ignore the lurid Hollywood-style circumstances of the case, the possibility that the father is a drug dealer or that the California judge made the decision in his favour because the mother was trying to deny him access to the children. The Rutherford-Giersch family are a typical multicultural family and hence face the typical challenges of a multicultural family, bridging cultures and countries. The kids are living in France (or Monaco, which I suspect is more accurate) with their father and their grandmother, for Pete’s sake. People magazine reports that they play tennis at the Monte Carlo Country Club, which doesn’t look too shabby. They are not, as the media would imply, in a situation of destitution just because they live outside of US national borders. Of course the children will be emotionally burdened because a family has broken up and they cannot have both parents at the same time, just like all children of divorced parents. Just because these children were born in the United States and are American citizens does not mean that they are not also half German or half European if you may.

Many American children miss out on an American education because their parents are expatriates or diplomats or military officers or missionaries who live permanently on foreign soil. There is no fuss made about their ‘right to an American education’. In fact, most of these kids are considered lucky and even privileged. I am not saying that the children in this case are not entitled to be with their mother, nor am I saying that the father is innocent. I am just saying that the focus of the case is wrong. France is a legitimate country too and Daniel Giersch, as an EU citizen, has every right to live there. If his ex-wife and mother of his children were with them, the ‘right to an American education’ would not be an issue.

In this case, the father and mother have failed in their duty to their GloLo children to create a situation that is stable and in their best interest. When a marriage dissolves, it is the parents’ obligation to work out a cultural and geographical solution that provides the children with as much stability and continuity as possible. It’s not about America and its education system. It is not about America versus France or Monaco or Europe. It is not a country or cultural issue. It is a family issue.

In a GloLo family, a divorce has the added complexity of geography. Both parents need to find a solution where they can live close enough to the children so that the children enjoy the benefits of the co-parenting arrangement determined by the courts. Maybe Mr. Giersch has to live in a place that is lesser known for its tax advantages and change his business model. Maybe Ms. Rutherford has to re-think her career plan as a working mom. Maybe they both need to shift their priorities a bit, perhaps put their egos aside and consider what and where is really best for the children. I think they need to show the little GloLo girl and boy how wonderful it can be to be a part of two cultures, to speak two or even three languages, and to be a global citizens (which is not contrary to being an American citizen).

In the meantime, while Rutherford fights a court battle for custody of her two children and Giersch continues his (clearly very flexible) business from Europe, we can only hope that their children are enjoying their GloLo journey through life and learning to say, accent-free, ”Vive la France”.

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