Socialite “Kidnapper” Dad Case: We Need Shared Parenting, not Abductions

by Jed Hresko
Deputy Director of Fathers & Families

Boston, MA – Boston Police issued an Amber Alert this Sunday for Clark Rockefeller and his daughter Reigh, after Rockefeller was accused of kidnapping the 7-year-old during a supervised visit. The dramatic Newbury Street abduction, Rockefeller’s colorful past and the family’s wealthy Beacon Hill lifestyle helped fuel a media manhunt that’s kept the story on the front page throughout the week.

While the media treats the case like a socialite soap opera, they miss the real point. A system that cuts one parent out of the child’s life breeds custodial abductions. This presumption of “primary custody” in the family courts and our culture made it acceptable for the girl’s mother to move Reigh to London last December, leaving Rockefeller devastated.

Some details are unclear, since the divorce records were impounded at the couple’s request. Prior to the abduction, there is no record of either parent alleging abuse or neglect by the other. And, we’ve confirmed through local sources the reports that Rockefeller was a doting father and the girl’s primary caregiver until the divorce.

While the Boston Police were elevating Rockefeller to violent carjacker status and the Coast Guard dispatching jets to search for Rockefeller’s yacht, the family court system is the biggest taker of children. As we testified to the Massachusetts Legislature in support of the Shared Parenting bill:

The “award of custody” is in truth the taking of custody from one parent. Both parents walk into the courtroom with equal legal and physical custody rights to the child. These rights are removed from one of the parties.

The desperation and heartache that Rockefeller undoubtedly felt, however, do not justify putting the child through the stress and potential danger of being on the run. And they don’t justify endangering the social worker who attempted to stop the fleeing SUV that scooped up Rockefeller and Reigh.Fathers & Families condemns Rockefeller’s actions, and we think it’s wise for our supporters to do the same. Some in this movement are tempted to support Rockefeller and other criminal acts by “desperate dads” as heroic acts of defiance against a corrupt system. But these kind of acts don’t win us any supporters and only embolden our opponents. Every successful movement has been built by thousands – if not millions – of activists working together – not by the flamboyant acts of a few individuals.

We can use this case as a “teachable moment” with our friends, co-workers, and anyone else we advocate with. Explain that if one parent “wins custody” – the other therefore must “lose” and often loses badly – leading to acts of desperation like this. Raise the bigger questions: what kind of system is it where the primary caregiver loses custody and his kid is moved overseas? How come joint legal and physical custody is currently ordered in only 8% of cases in Massachusetts, despite 15+ years of research illustrating better outcomes for children with shared parenting?

A position paper on “The Crisis of Family Abductions” from the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children stated, “The system is a major part of the problem.  In many cases our adversarial system forces conflict.  We must seek reasoned, negotiated resolutions to prevent the abduction from ever taking place.  We must keep child custody issues out of the adversarial process as long as possible.“

The real losers in contentious and one-sided custody battles are the kids. Our movement is quick to criticize when one parent puts their interests before their child’s. That works both ways. Kids need both parents.