When I heard the news that
Juliette Gilbert committed suicide in a hotel room in Oregon
last week (June 29, 2007), I was stunned by this tragedy. Word
quickly spread about the suicide among non-custodial mother’s
Allow me to
tell you about my dear friend, Juliette Gilbert.
You may know her as “The
Fugitive Mom” for kidnapping her son Sky, and taking him to
New Zealand. They resided there for approximately 3 years. I
knew Juliette as a nurturing mother who loved her son with all
of her heart. She was someone’s mother, daughter and
grandchild. She was artistic, she considered being a Christian
Counselor and she loved the great outdoors. None of these things
brought her as much happiness though, as her son Sky. She loved
him more than anyone and anything on this earth.
Juliette served her time in the
Kitsap County jail, reported for Probation Services and jumped
through every legal hoop and channel to see her son after
returning to the U.S. She understood what she did was
wrong. Still, she was not allowed to see him. For approximately
2 years and 2 months--until the time of her death, she did not
accountable and responsible?
She did not feel free to discuss
much about her life because she was always afraid it would
effect getting to see Sky. She shied away from a reporter who
wanted to interview her. In some ways, she must have imagined if
she kept her mouth shut, it would help her see her child. She
stayed silenced. Other than a paper she wrote about her
abuse--which gives a clear, shocking indication into why she
fled with her son, she kept quiet. The media has had a field day
with this mother and I cannot recall reading many positive
Juliette quietly tried to
re-build her life. Most of her letters from jail, emails and
phone conversation were tinted with ramblings about her son. He
was clearly her reason to face each day. She tried to have
hope. She told me it was quite painful not even getting to see
him. It is especially frustrating that she did her part--served
her time--reported for Probation Services, etc. and still could
not get near her child.
At the time of her death, I
have been told that mother and son still had not seen one
another. As I previously mentioned…approximately 2 years and 2
months later. There is no excuse for this.
In custody disputes, it is
common to hear “professionals” such as therapists refuse to
allow the absent parent contact with the child. Common phrases
are, “it would be detrimental to him” or “it may harm him.” So a
subtle alienation occurs. The alienation is somehow more
acceptable because it is done by professionals.
I believe people should have
tried harder to make contact between this mother and son
happen. Juliette would have settled for supervised visitation
(she told me this) just as long as she could see her Sky. What
did people think she would do in a controlled, monitored,
supervised environment? Take her son and flee to New
Zealand? What could possibly be the reason this did not
happen? Could it have been so difficult to give this mother a
ray of hope?
We have become case numbers in a
revolving Family Court door. Court appointed evaluations,
astounding legal fees, manipulations and maneuvers, outrageous
allegations… it’s all there. So are the continuances--the court
dates that are “postponed” or ones that will never happen. Among
us insiders, we call the “Continuance Game,” a way of working or
manipulating the system.
Somewhere along the line, the
“professionals” who seem to know everything about us--from what
is best for our children to the inner thoughts in our minds,
have lost compassion. That “human factor” is mysteriously
missing. Why is it a total stranger can spend 50 minutes in a
“therapy session” with our children and be an expert as to which
parent is the “better” parent? Why not look at how BOTH parents
can be involved in the child’s life and create a workable
plan? Anyone with common sense can see that Juliette Gilbert was
not treated fairly.
From the child’s point of view,
he was with his mother for three years. Didn’t people think Sky
might miss his mother and want to see her? People cannot make a
mother disappear from a child’s heart. Sky could not possibly
turn his feelings for his mother off, like a light switch. What
about what Sky wanted?
From my point of view, children
should know both parents, if it is at all possible. Especially
when that child has a history with that parent. A picture that
sits in my living room of Juliette and Sky – taken in New
Zealand, shows a mother and son who appear happy.
What people do not know was that
Juliette asked for help for a year and a half before that day
she took Sky and disappeared--a year and a half. People
let her down and did not properly do their jobs. She was not
believed. She wrote to me that she had to “convince” people she
was abused. It is not like she did not try.
Because of Juliette’s
drastic action and taking her son, I never saw her as fragile or
being unstable. If anything I saw her as determined and trying
to protect her child. Although I would never condone or support
parental kidnapping or custodial interference, I always told her
that she did what other mothers only discuss.
How many mothers have I known
who wanted to flee with their child because they believed the
other parent was abusing the child? Too many to count.
When the courts fail to protect
our children, nurturing mothers take the law into their own
hands. I have heard many mothers discuss taking their children
and defying court orders. Some pondered “going
underground.” Still, Juliette took drastic action. She did what
the rest of the mothers could not.
Mother or Law Breaker?
While some of us did not know
where our children slept at night, or if they were enduring
another black-out rage from their alcoholic fathers, Juliette
had her son right with her. If I had her courage, perhaps my own
situation with my children would have been different.
I can tell you that it would be
very unusual for a mother to go to such lengths as to take her
child to another country and become a fugitive, remain “in
hiding” for three years, and face jail or prison, if she did not
feel she had a valid, very good reason for doing so.
Stereotyping Non-Custodial Mothers
There is a strong stereotype
about non-custodial mothers. The reality is that many of these
mothers became non-custodial mothers because of controlling,
Many of these women were primary
caretakers of their children before the divorce or separation,
and they were educated and stable.
Many watched in horror as the
abusive parent was awarded custody.
How does this happen?
Women can lose custody due to:
financially depleted especially when the ex has more status;
Guardian ad Litems fail to remain neutral and in the best
interests of the child;
--When the attorney does not
show up at court and a “default” is entered;
--When the Judge does not
consider all of the evidence--especially in abuse cases;
Costs of Custody Battles:
I am always amazed when mothers
“That would never happen to me,”
“There is no way he would get
custody-- he’s a drunk” or
“I would fight for my child.”
I ask them what they would do
that these mothers did not do. I ask them if they are
independently wealthy, because last I heard, a roaring custody
battle costs upwards of $50,000.00! If you can fight for
custody today on $50,000.00, you have a bargain deal!
Where did we ever get the idea
that justice is perfect?
When my attorney and I used to
enter the courtroom door, my attorney used to wink at me and
say, “Let’s hope the Judge got up on the right side of the
bed this morning.” There is no place for humor in the
courts, let alone sarcasm.
is not always foreseeable:
I did not see Juliette’s suicide
coming. Sometimes we cannot foresee a tragedy- even one of this
In my 20+ years of working with
and supporting non-custodial mothers or mothers living apart
from their children, I have never known someone to commit
suicide. I also have never known someone to run out of hope, or
die of a broken heart. I can only imagine what went through
Juliette’s mind when she took her last few breaths in that hotel
room. It will haunt me the rest of my life. She should not have
ever reached that point.
the War Stop?
Even in death, negative comments
are still made about Juliette Gilbert.
One person even had the audacity
to contact me and make the statement, “it’s too bad because
now--since she killed herself, her ex-husband WON.”
Can’t people see that there were
There is a little boy in this
scenario who did not see his mother for the past approximately 2
years and 2 months, and now he will not see her for the rest of
We must take something positive
from this. If we do not, it somehow seems like Juliette’s death
was in vain.
We have a lot to learn and
Juliette’s death speaks volumes over what I could possibly
When is the “fight” too much?
Do we forget in all of our
litigation that sometimes people are human and do not have the
emotional reserves to continue the fight? That sometimes, we
are held in this life by what seems to be a thread, and we can
just “snap?” Instead of alienation, I only wish people had
taken steps to promote a relationship between this mother and
child. There should have been progress in a positive direction--not a negative one. We must do everything in our power to see
that a tragedy like the one that happened to Juliette Gilbert
never happens again.
/ Web Page: www.authorsden.com/joyhenley
Joy Henley is a Published Author
and Newspaper Reporter. She has been a Social Worker for 25+
years, and a Family Law Advocate for non-custodial mothers for
20+ years. She educates people about Parental Alienation, (PA)
Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) and Hostile Aggressive