Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Yet another case of parental kidnapping...

This is actually an old case.  I just learned about it last night while watching uploads of TV shows on YouTube.  It's the case of Dorothy Lee Barnett and her daughter, Savanna Todd.  Back in 1993, Barnett was living in Charleston, South Carolina and married to a guy named Benjamin Harris Todd III.  Though their marriage had produced Savanna, they had an acrimonious split.  A nasty custody battled ensued and Todd ended up with full custody of the baby girl, mainly because Barnett was alleged to have bipolar disorder.  The court found that Barnett didn't think her ex husband had any role in the child's upbringing.

An Australian television program about the case...

Rather than handing over her baby, Barnett fled the country in February 1994.  Her daughter was then ten months old.  They lived in several countries before finally settling in Australia in 2007.  Barnett was then married to her second husband, Juan Geldenhuys, who acted as Savanna's father.  They had changed the girl's name to Samantha Geldenhuys and Barnett eventually had another baby, a son, with her second husband.  Barnett was using the alias Alexandra Geldenhuys.  Barnett and Geldenhuys eventually split and Geldenhuys went back to his native South Africa, where he later died of bone cancer.

One of Geldenhuys' friends grew suspicious of Barnett when he heard her accidentally call her daughter Savanna.  In November 2013, Barnett was arrested in Queensland, Australia.  She was extradited to the United States, where she was eventually sentenced to less than two years in prison for falsifying passports and parental abduction.  She could have spent more than twenty years in prison.  By now, she's out of prison, though Barnett is not allowed to return to Australia because she is now a convicted felon.

All her life, Samantha Geldenhuys had no idea that she had family in the United States.  She asserts that she was much loved and her mother had never abused her.  Geldenhuys has since met her birth father.  I have to wonder what that was like for her, since she had no idea of his existence prior to her mother's arrest.  In the television program I posted above, she seems to think he's a bad person and has no right to know her.  But then in the article run by the Daily Mail, it sounds like they met and he wasn't so bad after all.

I am always surprised by comments on these types of stories.  A lot of people, women especially, think it's okay for women to flee the country with their kids in the case of nasty divorces.  Sometimes, it's true that women are running from abusers and need protection.  Sometimes it's true that the man has more money and access to shrewder lawyers and simply wants to be controlling.  However, I think it's often true that women who are finished with a relationship decide they'd rather not deal with the ex.  So they accuse him of being "abusive", even if there's no actual proof.

In this case, a judge awarded parental custody to Barnett's ex husband because: 

The family court found that 'the mother steadfastly rejected that the father had a role of value to the child and that she and the child would be better off if he were not in the picture at all,'

Clearly, the family court was correct.  Instead of staying in the United States and working with her ex husband so that they both had a role in their daughter's life, Barnett chose to flee.  She claims that he was a bad man, but she evidently never proved it.  Consequently, she spent twenty years on the run and her ex husband, who may or may not have been abusive, spent twenty years missing out on raising his daughter.  Samantha Geldenhuys then spent twenty years not knowing anything about her family.  Apparently, Barnett only kept in touch with her brother when she was abroad and he has since died.

I have to wonder if this was the best choice...  I don't think it was.  In fact, it really upsets me when one parent unilaterally decides that the other parent is "unfit".  My husband's ex wife did it, though she didn't leave the country.  She might have if Bill had asserted his rights as father to his daughters.  He chose not to, so she went the route of parental alienation.  She abused her children by depriving them of their father and leading them to believe that he's an asshole.  He's not, though, and they have truly missed out on not having access to him.

While the court system can suck and sometimes gets things wrong, it's not right to take the law into your own hands.  Barnett had no right to take her daughter away from her father.  She may have thought he was an asshole of epic proportions.  She still had no right to deny him access to their child.  If he was as bad as she claims he is, she should have gone through the proper legal channels to have his access to the child restricted.  Had Barnett been a man, she most definitely would still be sitting in prison for parental abduction and rightfully so.

I am glad to hear that Geldenhuys had a good childhood regardless.  It sounds like despite everything, she grew up okay.  However, the fact that she is somewhat unscathed (and I say "somewhat" because I'm not sure she quite understands what she's missed), doesn't change the fact that what her mother did was wrong.  People who abduct their children, male or female, need to be properly punished.  And again, people need to be more careful about sharing their DNA.  


  1. I'm not quite sure why the courts let women off so lightly in these cases. One of my aunts went to a Catholic high school in Fresno with a woman who fled to (I think) Canada because she alleged that her ex was abusing one of the kids and wanted only supervised visitation, and the courts wouldn't go along with it.

    Another aunt taught with a guy who split up with his wife. They shared joint custody of two children. Then the woman decided to join the army. She just assumed that she would be allowed to take the kids with her and was shocked when he fought it and won. She didn't abduct anyone at least, but she just thought she automatically had the right as the mother of the children to take them from the area where both parents had jointly raised them without consulting anyone.

    1. I see people all the time complaining about an abusive spouse and they get told they should just take the kid and leave. It doesn't seem to occur to them that the other parent, abusive or not, has rights.

    2. Yes, and many of these people don't understand that one cannot take every single allegation of abuse by an ex-spouse at face value.


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