Waldlaw Blog

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Lost At Sea

I have been very troubled by recent articles about a Bay Area father (Christopher Maffei) who absconded with his two young children ages 2 and 3, stole a yacht, and set out to sea.  He was out on the ocean solo with his kids for several days before finally surrendering to the FBI and Coast Guard, and while interviews with him suggest that he took appropriate supplies with him and took precautions to keep his kids safe, this behavior undoubtedly put his kids in harm's way.

That said, I have been sorry that so little attention has been paid to the question: "what caused this man -- by all accounts a generally sane and loving father -- to do something so extreme?!"

As one of the few attorneys in the Bay Area who regularly litigates parentage cases, I have had the opportunity to spend time with quite a few devoted parents who have been faced with the possibility of losing a child because the child's other parent has decided they should no longer have contact.  These are horrible cases, and the stakes are as high as any I faced when I was in the Alameda County Public Defender's Office.  It is hard to think of anything more awful than the prospect of losing one's child.  Sadly, many parents react to this threat in ways that ultimately jeopardize their relationships with their children -- as did Mr. Maffei.

The children's mother admitted to the media that she has been sharing custody with Mr. Maffei, and that the kids love him, but that she had recently told him he couldn't see his kids any more until he got an apartment and a job.  She had then stopped anwering his phone calls.  She asks: "Who in their right mind would go out alone on a boat with two toddlers?'"  (To read the full article, go to: http://www.sfgate.com/crime/article/Kids-recovered-after-abduction-police-say-3847831.php#ixzz26fn6GEM0.)

Who, indeed.  Just maybe a man who loves his children, who has been told he can't see them again and who KNOWS that using them as leverage to try to get him to behave differently is wrong.  Who KNOWS that his children, ages 2 and 3, will not know where he is and will think he has abandoned them.  Who KNOWS that a good parent does not work out issues with his or her co-parent by withholding contact with the kids.

I AM NOT defending Mr. Maffei.  He absolutely should NEVER have taken his kids, stolen a boat, and set off to sea.  That was, indeed, irresponsible and crazy.  But I submit that Ms. Hipon also should NEVER have cut off visitation between a loving father and his children as a way of making a point about money or lifestyle.  That, too, was irresponsible, and I fear that in the long run the kids will be the ones who suffer the consequences.

(For Mr. Maffei's comments on why he did what he did, see: http://www.sfgate.com/default/article/Calif-father-accused-of-taking-2-kids-speaks-out-3860015.php.)


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