27 Aug Kelly Rutherford | An Emotional Campaign
Thanks for talking with us Kelly. Tell us something about your background. How would we know you?
Well most recently, I guess it would be Gossip Girl. I moved to New York from Los Angeles to do Gossip Girl about eight or nine years ago.
Are you still acting?
I am. I’m still acting, but my life has taken on another shape in a way, which has been an extraordinary experience because of a personal situation. So I’ve started an organization, and that’s been really time-consuming, and my case to get my children back to this country has been quite time-consuming, as well.
Start from the beginning and tell us what happened.
I have two kids – Hermes and Helena. I was married, then divorced six years ago, and then basically, we went back and forth about custody and that kind of thing, and it was never quite enough for him. So it was like we were constantly in court, and no matter how many evaluations we had that said, “You should be the primary parent, and they should have a lot of time with their dad, and because I was pregnant, when we separated, so you have to understand they were really tiny. It wasn’t like they were five, six years old, they were really little. My son was two, and I was actually pregnant at the time when we separated. He kept fighting for more and more to the point where I really didn’t have any money left, because I couldn’t keep up with all the legal aspects of it. I never tried to keep the kids from him. I never asked for a penny. I just said, “Let’s be great parents.” And what ensued was this odd legal battle. He had sued a lot of people. He sued Google. He sued The German Post. He was really smart at litigation. I had never even had a lawyer, never even been in court, so it was an interesting process. And I didn’t really understand all the details of that process, until I met Wendy Murphy who became my Pro Bono attorney. But what happened was my kids were sent to France three years ago by a judge who basically made an order that was unenforceable in a foreign country, and therefore Monaco took jurisdiction. And now, my ex is now trying to take all my custody away, which I think was his intention from the beginning. But this has gone on for seven years, the last three, they’ve been in France. And at the time that they were sent there, I was bankrupted, and I was given 50-50 custody in a foreign country, not because I wasn’t a fit parent – we were both found to be fit parents – but because I could travel and he couldn’t. So instead of saying, “Okay, well then, we’ll keep the kids in their school, in their country with their primary caregiver, and because this father who’s an adult, needs to figure out his situation, we’ll accommodate the dad. And mom will travel the kids back and forth every holiday, every summer, until he sorts it out.” Instead, the judge took the kids out of their school early, sent them to a foreign country away from their mother, away from their country, which was unconstitutional really, because they have a right to remain in their own country.
They’re American citizens?
Yes. They hold US passports. So now since then, I’ve been working with Wendy Murphy. It took me about a year and a half to find her. And certainly, I was so thankful, because she explained it to me what’s going on in family court today. And also, we’ve been working together on getting them back.
Can you explain the process of appeals? Does a certain amount of time have to pass by, and then you can make an appeal? How does it work?
They give you a certain amount of time to appeal, and we’ve been doing that. It’s an unprecedented case. It’s obviously very unique, and the first time, I think, The Federal Court’s hearing this, and it’s certainly unusual. It’s something that affects every child now in The US. We all marry people from different countries, and what defines your citizenship? Just because you’re a child versus an adult doesn’t mean that there’s a difference. As Wendy says, “Just because children don’t vote, and they don’t pay taxes doesn’t mean they don’t have rights.” And unfortunately, in family court they aren’t rights, they’re called ‘interests’, and interests can be very wishy-washy, whereas rights are definite. So we know one of the things with the Children’s Justice Campaign, which I started out of this whole experience a year and a half ago, is how do we define children’s rights, and how do we make sure that children do have rights, and they don’t just have interests? So that’s what’s going on in my life.
That’s where you’re at now. That must be very confusing for the kids. How often do you see them?
I go back and forth a lot. I was just there for ten days, and then I’ll go for another ten days at the end of the month. And really, it was just about when I had the money to go, because again this judge knew that I didn’t even have the money to go see my kids, when she sent them there. The whole thing was set up in a very odd way. You sort of think, “Well, she can’t really go there. It’s not going to be easy.” It’s a woman, Judge Theresa Beaudet, here in the LA court, and you just would never think. So it’s been challenging on many levels. And certainly the most challenging for my kids. What did they do? They didn’t do anything to be taken away from their mother and their country.
How do they feel about this? Do you talk to them about it, and do you say, “Do you understand why I can’t come and see you?”
They understand, because they ask questions. “Why are we now here? Why aren’t you here? Why aren’t we with you? Why aren’t we in our school?” There was a lot of stuff in the beginning that had to be explained. And as a parent, you have to decide – or at least for me, my decision was I want my kids to get through this, as if nothing happened. Their childhood is perfect, and they’re going to be great, healthy adults. That’s the most important thing. I, as an adult, have understood what’s going on, and more and more so as time’s gone on. So my job has been to say, “Hey, enjoy this time. I’m going to be there as often as possible.” They know it’s unfair. They said, “But mommy, this is unfair.” They cry on Skype, “We want to be with you.” They know that a judge made this decision. They know a lot of it, but I don’t want it to weigh heavy on them. They know the basic details of it, but they don’t know all the details. It’s important to comfort them in a way that they know that they’re loved. And yes, they’re right. It’s not fair. When they say ‘it’s not fair’, I say, “You’re right. It’s not fair, but we’re going to get through it, and we’re going to be okay, because you know I love you.”
They know there’s a plan. They say, “Mommy, are you still fighting for us, and when are you going to be here?” And we mark off the days on a calendar, so there are actions that are being taken. They know even when our first board meeting for the Children’s Justice Campaign took place. We had Doctor Shefali there, who wrote The Conscious Parent, Wendy Murphy who’s an incredible activist, and lawyer, and my savior. And we have an incredible pediatrician on board. We have a gentleman who wrote a book about domestic violence, and why it’s prevalent – a study of it in our society and how we raise men differently than women, and why it happens. And then we have a woman who’s my co-founder who runs a support group for women who have been victims of domestic violence. She went through a divorce herself that was very challenging. We sat, and we talked about it, and we thought, “Well, this is really about the children, because this happens to mothers a lot. It seems to be happening a lot more to mothers these days, but it happens to both parents. We wanted to make sure that the focus is really on the children. We all get divorced for different reasons but the focus really should be on what’s right for the kids.
Yes, sometimes when you get divorced, the parents, who are supposed to be the adults, play games through their children.
They can sometimes. They’re not evolved. They do. I was able to think. There are evolved parents, and that’s what’s so great about Doctor Shefali’s book, The Conscious Parent. It explains how we can become more conscious and aware as parents – even if we have a great marriage – that we’re not projecting things on our children, that we’re evolving ourselves instead of expecting our children to evolve.
A couple of things are happening this week. You’ve just flown in because there’s a benefit tomorrow night.
It’s at the home of Julia Sorkin, and we have an amazing group of people. Wendy Murphy’s going to speak. Lisa Bloom’s speaking. My co-founder Patrice Lennowitz and I will speak, and we have this girl Sierra who wrote a song specifically for our organization. She’s going to perform, and we have Lisa Rinna, and Marcia Cross, and Ed Westwick, and Lysa Heslov who’s George Clooney’s producing partner’s wife, and Sarah Elle. All these really amazing people have come to host. And Selma Blair. It’s just a really good group.
It sounds like you have a lot of support.
Well, I think it’s terrifying that this can happen. Since the beginning, people have been saying, “How could this even happen?” And I said, “Well, I’ve been saying the same thing.” So I think it’s frightening to think that you can have children in a country and have them sent away from it, not based on anything really. There was no evidence in our case that showed that he couldn’t get back into the country.It was a very odd thing, and what it’s saying about the future of American citizen children is, I think, terrifying to most people. And of course, I think a lot of people have seen a breakdown of the family court system, as well. So anyone that’s been through a divorce and dealt with this knows that it’s not easy. Even if you haven’t been through it yourself, you certainly know someone who has been through it.
What are your ultimate aims for the organization?
We want to raise awareness in the media, because it’s not really being talked about, and I think my case is a landmark case on many levels. You hear about random cases, but my case has been in the press for a long time. And I’m very fortunate that I’ve had a voice, because Lord knows when you don’t have a voice, you have no money, and you have nowhere to go, you have no opportunity. So my thing was, “I want to be a voice for the people who don’t have a voice and the children who don’t have a voice – my children and all American children.” That’s how this whole thing came about. We’re looking at how we can change laws to protect children, how we can raise awareness about what is going on the family court system today, and be a resource for parents who are going through this. Really, just get out there, and start the conversation.
Which is commendable – so people don’t feel that they’re alone. If they’re in the same situation, they can go to your website, and they can talk to someone, and they can feel like they have support.
I felt alone for a long time, so I know the feeling. I do know how terrifying that is, especially when it comes to children. And I think when I went to see Gloria Stein speak, there was an event for Sanctuary For Children in New York. She said, “The minute you go from being a victim to an activist.” In other words, you stop being a victim the minute you become an activist. And it’s so true, because you go, “Oh, I’m doing something.” You get up in the morning, and you’re taking an action. And not only are you taking an action for you and your family that you’re seeing, but, “I’m going to pay this forward.” And I think that gets you through a lot of tough times. Not that there aren’t pity parties that happen. But at least you know that in my stage, you’re like, “Okay…”
You don’t feel like a victim.
You have a petition going now. And I didn’t even realize this, but you can petition The White House?
Yes, I didn’t know either. Well, he convinced Monaco to take jurisdiction. They’ve probably been given some misinformation, because the children are US citizens. And now he’s filed to take all my rights away. So I thought, “What do we do now? We’ve got to take this to another level, because this is absolutely insane and for no reason.”
Why would he feel like you shouldn’t have any custody at all?
I think it’s about control. And he told me when we were breaking up, he said, “Yeah, I’m going to take you down and see that you have nothing. I’m going to take the kids.” He sued Google. He sues people, and I think it’s his way of dealing with things possibly – which is unfortunate. But like I said, everyone deals differently. Everyone ends up in family court for different reasons. It’s unfortunate, but we see it happen. We see it happen on both sides. If one of the people is angry in a divorce, you see them just try to destroy everything. It doesn’t matter whether it’s the husband or the wife, but it happens, and it is unfortunate.
It is. And so coming back to the petition – you’ve petitioned The White House?
Yes, we’ve petitioned The White House, and we need 100,000 signatures, and they give you about a month to do it. We’re already at 80,000 which is good, but we really need to get up to that 100,000.
How many days are left, do you know? Is there a time limit?
I think a couple of weeks are left, which is good. It’s incredible the amount of support we’re getting. I think people really do realize that this is a big issue. It needs to be looked at. It needs to be addressed.
If people want to help you, they go to Whitehouse.org, look up your name Kelly Rutherford, and then they can just sign?
Yes, they sign. And then they send you an email, and you have to confirm it. That’s the big thing. I think it’s very easy. I think all you need to do is put your email and a zip code, and they send you an email, and you just confirm it, and that’s it. So it’s not like you have to do a whole, big, long thing.
It’s great that you can do that. What happens when you get the 100,000? Then what happens in The White House?
Well, I think Obama then sends Air Force One to pick up my kids, [laughs] Yes, that’s what’s going to happen. Michelle’s going to be like, “We got to do this. This shouldn’t be happening to moms in America or dads in America. This is un-American, and we’re going to do something about it.”
And that’s why we should always petition The White House, because Air Force One should get used more often, right?
Well, you never know.
So what can people do to help you with your cause?
People can get involved with Children’s Justice Campaign. They can just go to childrensjusticecampaign.org and make a donation. We’re obviously building this organization and need all the support we can get, because you need so many things today. You need a social media person. You need a resource person. To be as effective as we really want to be, we need that support. And we’re doing events and things like that, but people are welcome to go online obviously, as well and donate, or get involved if they’re going through it.
Do you have plans for more events, more benefits in New York and LA?
We’re even partnering with different people. We’re partnering with a jewelry line now to do it – Meira T – they’re going to do their children’s collection for Children’s Justice Campaign, and they’re going to give the profits to us. We’re teaming up with other brands. We’re doing events. We’re discussing this in the media to create more awareness around it.
We’re joined now by Wendy Murphy, who is your lawyer. Can you tell us how you got involved in this case, Wendy?
I do impact litigation work, and I’m an academic. I teach at a law school, and so I’m always looking for cases that are good examples of systemic problems that relate to violence against women and children. And this case was just an incredibly important example of the way children’s rights are violated. Fundamental constitutional rights are violated with impunity. Which is to say, the harm happens and nobody notices. Nobody cares, and no one can do anything about it. In a traditional sense, as Kelly pointed out before, children in family court are more like furniture. They’re owned by their parents. They don’t have their own rights. So when you go to family court, it’s the mother versus the father, and the kids get dragged along. So when bad things happen to children’s rights in family court, it’s a tree in the forest problem. It’s like, “Is there a violation, if nobody speaks for the children?” So when Kelly told me that her children had been forced by court order, a California family court judge literally ordered her children to leave The United States of America and live in France, my constitutional bones started shaking. Because it’s so wrong on so many levels, and it may well have happened before to other children. But because people don’t understand that children do have rights, nobody fixed the problem. Injustices to children, especially something as important as not being allowed to live in your own country, should have a remedy in the courts.
The United States Supreme Court said a long time ago, “If you are an American citizen – man, woman, or child, under no circumstances can you be forced to live in a foreign country.” It’s called expatriation. The only way you can live in a foreign country, is if you chose to, if you want to. A voluntary choice. These children did not choose to leave The United States. In fact, the attorney appointed for them in California specifically wrote a report saying, “These children should stay here. This is their country. Their mother is here. They were born here, and the only reason a California judge shipped them to live in a foreign country is because their father said, “My visa was revoked, and I’m not allowed to enter The United States.” There was absolutely no evidence that he was forbidden to enter The United States – none. But because he said it, the judge indulged it, shipped the kids abroad, when they were only two and five years old. Ripped from their mother’s arms, put on a plane for a foreign country – where guess what – when they landed there, they were nation less with no rights, no protections as American citizens. That’s what happens. When you get forced to leave your own country, and you’re forced to live in someone else’s country, where you have no citizenship, you have no rights. If we don’t prevail there, we will file a case with The Supreme Court of The United States, because really we have – not just the winning hand – we have all aces. What’s higher than that, a royal straight flush? We have that. On Delta, it’s the ‘diamond status’.
We have no argument against us, because The Supreme Court said it is non-negotiable. And if you can’t win, when you have The Supreme Court clearly on your side, there’s something wrong with your legal system, which by the way is why we formed The Children’s Justice Campaign. It is the kind of outrageous example of what’s wrong with our family courts and what’s wrong with a legal system that treats children like stuff. If children are stuff, bad things happen to them with impunity. We want to change that. We want to call attention to the injustices – critically important piece of the campaign – but we also want to force the legal system to create more rights for children. Children don’t need rights exactly the same as adults, but they need something higher than what they have which is status as plants. They shouldn’t be house plants. We want children to be able to stand up, when something really serious is happening to them. Whether it’s a loss of fundamental rights like Kelly’s kids, or they’re being abused in some serious way which is very common, very common. Something like five children die every day from abuse or neglect in this country. Every day. And I think if children had more rights, that number would go down. I know that if children had actual rights, Kelly’s children would be in their country where the belong. So The Children’s Justice Campaign is going to make them at least talk about it. And if we can start to develop doctrinal contours that give children more weight because they don’t vote, they don’t have any money. If we can give them a little more weight in terms of basic human rights, basic constitutional rights, we’re going to see a lot less abuse in this country. And certainly we’re not going to see any more children expatriated involuntarily by any court.
Since this interview was recorded, Kelly received her 100,000 signatures but the custody order was not overturned, and Monaco still has official jurisdiction over the children.