NZ Trapped Parents Watching Dorothy Lee Barnett Case

Dorothy Lee Barnett and Savanna in happier times enjoying an Australian Christmas

Dorothy Lee Barnett and Savanna in happier times enjoying an Australian Christmas

Thousands of parents are trapped in New Zealand because their child’s other parent refuses to allow the child to leave, or is unwilling to relinquish custody.

A high percentage of them are migrants in relationships with Kiwi partners, or migrants who moved to New Zealand with children born overseas. To take their child and run would expose them to persecution and the risk of a long prison sentence. Yet there are parents who are willing to sacrifice everything to remove their child from an abusive parent or an undesirable environment.

They (and will be watching with interest the court trial of Dorothy Lee Barnett in Carolina. Dorothy is an American mother that went on the run with her infant daughter back in 1994 and lived under a fake identity in New Zealand and Australia for 20 years.

This case will resonate with the mothers in New Zealand who feel that odds are stacked against them in the fight to be able to leave with their children. Many of them find they are on the back foot in court, where their every move and word is gauged for signs of hysteria or instability, while the father escapes similar scrutiny.  A symptom of a patriarchal society perhaps?

Dorothy, a flight attendant, was pregnant when her brief and abusive marriage to wealthy stockbroker Benjamin Harris Todd III fell apart and she filed for divorce. She told a doctor that Todd didn’t want the baby and demanded she have an abortion, she later went on to miscarry one of the twins she was carrying and gave birth to Savanna.

Within six months of getting married the couple had

“… split permanently but their skirmishes continued right up until Savanna’s birth in May the following year.

A grim struggle for custody of the child began. In the divorce proceedings, Barnett claimed Todd was gay or bisexual, citing nude home movies he had made with friends in the 1970s as evidence of perversion and unfitness as a father. None of this was accepted. Meanwhile expert witnesses lined up to say that Barnett was mentally unstable, promiscuous and volatile, causing her to become increasingly unhinged in the court.

The judge repeatedly cautioned her for making remarks, “talking excessively or too loudly (and) getting up and down from her seat”. She had gone through a variety of moods “from tearfulness, abjection, agitation, anger to near euphoria”. Perhaps this was understandable, given Barnett must have known she was about to lose custody of her nine-month-old daughter…

In his judgment, Judge Mallard blamed Barnett entirely for the break-up of the marriage and awarded sole custody of Savanna to Todd, determining that a stockbroker working full-time was best placed to look after a child who was still being breast-fed. “The psychological and emotional problems experienced by the mother, if left untreated, will create conflict and havoc in the child’s life and she will suffer accordingly,” Judge Mallard concluded.

Todd was “a caring, conscientious and stable person who tried to get help for his wife but failed”, according to the judge.

While Todd had been prepared to allow joint custody, Barnett had made it clear she believed her daughter should have no contact with her father whatsoever.

Overwhelmed in court by her husband’s battery of psychologists and pediatricians, Barnett would walk from the marriage with a $9000 emerald engagement ring, a ride-on lawnmower and a set of steak knives. She would be allowed to have Savanna only two weekends a month. On the first weekend visit, she failed to return the child and the court ordered her access to Savanna be supervised.

Dorothy abducted her own child during her fifth visit in 1994 and had been on the run ever since.

Last year, after a tip off from a supposed ‘friend’ Dorothy was apprehended on the Sunshine Coast region of Australia. She’d been living under the name of Alexandra Geldenhuys with her 21 year old daughter (real name ) Savanna Todd, a nursing student at James Cook University. Australia deported her back to the US where she is now in custody in Charleston County Jail.

Children of the Underground

Faye Yager, the founder of Children of the Underground, which claims to have helped 7000 women escape abusive spouses, says Barnett never had a chance. “He stomped on her like an ant. They set out to prove she was crazy so they could strip her of all her rights as a mother,” according to Yager, who claims to have helped Barnett while on the run.

Remarkably, another court-appointed psychiatrist in April 1994 found Barnett was not suffering from any mental illness or personality disorder. Madelaine Wohlreich reported that Barnett was suffering from no more than an acute reaction to the stress of being separated from her baby in the crucial first year of life.

“Hyperthymic personality” was not even a recognised diagnosis, according to standards set by the American Psychiatric Association, Wohlreich wrote.

Sturgis claims this report was “rigged” as the doctor had been sympathetic to Barnett’s case…” source

See also:

Dorothy Lee Barnett has pleaded not guilty to international parental kidnapping. Her daughter Savanna is standing by her and was last seen at her mother’s bail hearing holding up a placard that simply said ” I love you Mom”

Want to discuss this issue?

If this issue affects you please join in the discussion with other parents on our long running thread Migrant Stores: Trapped in NZ – Father won’t let child leave.

8 thoughts on “NZ Trapped Parents Watching Dorothy Lee Barnett Case

  1. Okay, Tom. I regretfully have failed to provide the follow-up to the Weldon Hill sexual harassment info that I offered. My source, whom as I stated, works for DHH, has as a lone ranger been carrying an enormous work load because he is pretty much the ONLY DHH attorney that is honoring his sworn oath to the legal profession and his state. Thus, he has not had the time to provide the details because he is doing more covering for all the inexperienced newbies that have been hired since Frank left several years ago. Frank ran things in a respectable, ethical manner. BR (before Russo) days. I apologize for not providing the details on this topic as of yet.

    HOWEVER, Dottie Barnett is a personal friend of mine. I once-upon-a-time had a home there with my then fiance. The media has slaughtered this story. In fact, the power and persuasion of media has convinced the majority of Americans following this story of atrocious lies.

    I was shocked to see this article about Faye Yeager, the underground, and Lee Barnett. I am extremely curious as to what prompted you to write on this story. If you’d like to ask me any questions, I’d definitely attempt to answer. It is a devastation that American citizens are stoning Lee and her family; mom, brother, everybody. I, on the other hand, see this story as a triumphant story of not one, but 2 mothers of extraordinary strength to do whatever it took to protect and secure their children. Like mother, like daughter as they say.


    Lisa Coté

  2. Migrant parents often find themselves the victim of the same “crazy or abnormal foreigner” treatment in New Zealand courts. I was disgusted by lawyers’ tactics there. People who were well-regarded in the community, in a country where honesty was waved around like a banner, and they used cheap, dirty tricks that Saul would have been EMBARRASSED to use! Cheap-as.

  3. There are two factors here that need to be taken into account.

    Firstly this is NOT a gender issue as it is commonly presented, there are plenty of MEN who are stuck in New Zealand, unable to leave because the MOTHER of their children refuses to cooperate (I know several guys in this situation, they are patiently waiting until their kids get old enough to make their own decision). Like the situation with domestic abuse (which is also not a gender issue), it is easy to present the situation as ‘woman as victim, man as perpetrator,’ even when this is not always the case.

    Secondly what gives any parent the idea that they have the right to separate their children from their other parent in the first place? This is the ultimate in parental alienation, which is a form of child abuse; it is also a direct violation of basic human rights treaties. Children have the right to have both parents in their life, and the only exceptions to this must be granted only after a court case. For women (or men) to have the idea that they can pack up their kids and leave for another country shows blatant disregard for the fact that the child involved has another parent, with EQUAL rights to see that child and be a part of its life. The fact that there are websites and Facebook pages dedicated to parents kidnapping their own children, and the complaints from the people who post on them shows the mentality only too clearly; total disregard for the fact that a child has TWO parents.

    While I acknowledge that remaining in a country you intensely dislike is not easy, taking a child away from their other parent is not the answer, and it reveals a great deal about the parent seeking to do this. It is no wonder that the Hague convention was put in place in order to prevent this type of systematic abuse, clearly it was absolutely necessary.

    • Vince, often it’s abuse in the first place that makes a parent want to take their child “away from that” country (and Kiwi) where the abuse has cast a shadow over their lives. This is a good thing for the child. Moving per se is not bad for a child. They adapt. And in better conditions (outside of New Zealand), they thrive, as well, without the turbulence caused by some toxic Kiwi they hooked up with.

      • Amen, Treefernsaw. It was abusive of the US Court to cut Lee Barnett out of Savanna’s life, not to mention the father’s harmful abusive nature and financial persuasion in the court and communityy. This is in NO WAY parental alienation as Vince suggests… It has to be noted as court induced parental alienation. Now how UNconstitutional is that???? I agree with Vince that these cases are happening regardless of gender of parent.

  4. They want to make a “very public example” of her, after all these years (great use of taxpayer money when the kid is already grown up, eh), to stop other parents (usually a concerned mother) from making efforts to take their children home from foreign countries where they are trapped by reductionist Hague laws in countries where the native has an advantage (usually a father, comfortable on his own turf with backing of his family and always of course considered next to blameless by his own courts). Faye Yeager isn’t even operating anymore. It’s a silly show trial.

  5. I have no idea what transpired between the mother and the father of the child or which one or to what extend both deserve blame. However, I find it ludicrous that a parent can “kidnap” his or her own child. If I found myself stripped of my parental rights, then I would do the exact same thing. I wish both of them the best.

    • In New Zealand, until reasonably recently, 85% of the time when a couple split up custody went to their mother (irrespective of how good the mother was as a parent). It was only after the consistent activities of men’s activists that the laws were changed. However, even now around 40% of fathers, who separate from the mother of their children, end up with no meaningful contact with their children whatsoever, even if they want too.

      I know someone quite well who is a pretty typical example of what happens. The mother of his son only ended up pregnant after lying about the use of contraception in the first place (very common), conned him into signing the birth certificate, left, sent a cousin and her own brother to beat him up with threats of further violence. He reported this to the police (who did virtually nothing), and later moved away for his own safety. She then moved to another town herself, and changed the kid’s name without the father’s permission. Years later when the kid was old enough to write too, the father discovered her cellphone number after she accidentally phoned him (she had his contact details the whole time). He attempted to get in contact with his own son again, and was accused of being violent (which was laughable). She even refused to give him any kind of address so he could write to his child. Because of the privacy laws he couldn’t even find out the location from places such as government departments (who all refused to help him), and she remained out of the electoral roles and with an unlisted phone number.

      He has seen his son only once, when the child was 9 years old; his son is now 16. The mother managed to eliminate him entirely, and the legal system helped her.

      Of course the father was still expected to pay child maintenance, which nearly bankrupted him On several occasions he ended up living in people’s garages as he couldn’t afford a proper place to live.

      Nowadays he refuses to become involved romantically involved with New Zealand women in any way whatsoever.

      The sad thing is that his situation is not unusual; get a bunch of New Zealand guys together and these kind of relationship horror stories are pretty standard.

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