Many have read, or watched broadcasts, about Kelly Rutherford’s (the star of Gossip Girl) child custody case. Her children were sent off to live with their father, Daniel Giersch, in France. Rutherford maintains that the judge’s ruling is both unjust and inexplicable. Television talking heads and other commentators have agreed. But when Rutherford speaks she may as well be playing basketball against an opponent who is not even on the court because Giersch is not sitting next to her on the couch in the TV studio. He is in France with the children. As in most divorce and child custody cases the truth is that there is more to this story than meets the eye. This case may prove the old adage that there are two sides to every story.
In 2009, while two months pregnant with their second child, Rutherford filed for divorce. According to reports in the media what followed over the next three years was a list of what not to do when attempting to successfully co-parent. Rutherford delivered their second child without informing Giersch until the following day and refused to include Giersch’s name on the birth certificate, even when ordered to do so by the court. After Giersch began to teach his son German, Giersch’s native language, Rutherford attempted to prevent Giersch from leaving the country citing her fear that Giersch would abduct the children. Rutherford sought to relocate the children to New York City so that she could film the next season of Gossip Girl, and Giersch moved to New York City in order to be able to spend time with their children. Then, Rutherford restrained Giersch from contacting her, her mother, and the nanny claiming that Giersch was harassing her family. When asked to provide proof of the harassment, Rutherford withdrew her request for the restraining order. But most notably, Rutherford, through her attorneys, had conversations with the State Department regarding accusations of criminal activity against Giersch’s “businesses” that led to him being expelled from the United States.
There are numerous fascinating aspects to this story. For many, the most troubling aspect of the story is probably why the judge ordered the relocation of the children to France. What stands out for me, however, is that the Rutherford case proves what I have told innumerable clients: revenge doesn’t pay. Apparently, the father was expelled from the United States because of actions that Rutherford took. Was she after revenge? Whatever the answer to that question is, the result of the father not being allowed in the United States speaks for itself.
People are betrayed all of the time. To a greater or lesser extent, we are unfortunately betrayed by our friends, our families, our business partners, and of course, our spouses. It is always hurtful. The impact and significance of the betrayal varies from case to case. But, always, how one responds to the betrayal matters; it matters a lot.
When the lawyers in our practice meet with new clients we are often regaled with stories about how our clients were done wrong. Despite the fact that there are two sides to every story usually the clients telling us about their betrayals are telling the truth. People experience the breakup of their families and need to process through the pain. They need to know that we, their lawyers, understand what it is they are saying, what happened, and where they are coming from.
Yet, even those who were betrayed have to temper their desire for revenge. Although people are loathe to admit it, they often want to strike back at the ones who hurt them. Perhaps that is what happened in the Rutherford case. Why else would Rutherford have taken actions to have her husband’s visa revoked? She may have thought that if he was kicked out of the United States, her case would be a slam dunk. But as it turned out, her actions backfired. The ways that revenge can backfire are far too numerous to imagine. It could involve income, jobs, friends, property, or, most of all, children. Experience teaches the good family law attorney that seeking revenge, instead of seeking the best possible results, often backfires. While it is difficult to know without having been at the trial, it appears that Giersch may have received better advice. This is apparent in the way he has conducted himself with the media during the entire trial. And as most recently reported, during Rutherford’s trip to visit the children in France, Giersch and the children were at the airport to greet her with a sign that said “Welcome Super Mama” and a bouquet of Hello Kitty balloons.
Different lawyers handle their clients differently. When confronted with clients making sense of their situations too many lawyers allow the client to wallow in their misery or to use the legal system as a means to exact revenge. Sometimes lawyers themselves use the legal system for revenge on purpose. Other times they merely carry their clients’ ax and do whatever the client wants. But the feeling of betrayal is better redirected into something positive: how to help reinvent the client’s life. What happens the “day after” the case is something that the client has direct control over. And their lawyer should have some influence on that outcome.
Family law attorneys are sometimes ribbed about being their client’s psychologists and social workers. There is some truth to this. To best represent a client a lawyer in this situation needs to help the client maximize his or her results. Put another way, that means helping the client determine their best outcome the day after the legal wrangling ends. The single best way for a lawyer to do this is to make sure that these clients remember to love themselves, and their children, more than they hate their ex-spouses. That way the very real feelings of betrayal are directed in the positive direction, not of revenge, but of building a better “day after.”