My Father's Story

I had the highest salary in a large school district as its superintendent of schools, but I was financially the poorest person on staff. Most of my earnings paid for attorneys, private investigators, detectives and travel. You see, my sons were missing - parental abduction - and I was searching world-wide for them for two years and three weeks.
I had already spent a ton of money mired in a two-year custody battle from which I emerged with a court document awarding me sole custody of the boys. Their mother was deemed unfit to care for them based upon court evidence that she was out-of-control, at best, and manic-depressive, at worst, depending upon which mental health "expert" you wanted to believe.

Dale and Scott in 1971
I had a ten-year marriage; the first eight years were blissful, warm, loving and family-oriented. As my loving wife became thinner and sicker throughout her second pregnancy, her behavior turned bizarre which made life a hellish experience for anyone in her way. I know because I lived it for two years. After her knife attack in which little Scott warned me and saved my life, her confrontations in my school district so that I could lose my employment and horrific incidents too many to mention, enough was enough! I was in danger, my sons were in danger, our family life extinguished, and it was time to seek custody of my sons and regain control of my life.
Then came a new problem - a bigger problem! The family court judge gave their mother unsupervised visitation for one week against the better judgments of the law guardian, court psychiatrist and social worker of the court. Their mother fled with her sons through five countries and nine residences for more than two years with the financial support of a rich and diabolical father.
Two years of searching; maintaining a stressful school administration post;
warding off death threats from a hitman; coping with an "arranged" second marriage; recovering and protecting my sons from forces beyond their control and sometimes beyond mine; threats of another custody hearing; and greater threats from people within the school district where I worked (who were in collusion with my former father-in-law) made life a nightmare to be tolerated as there was no escape. Custody in New York State has jurisdiction by county and if the custodial parent moves out of the county, the non-custodial parent can initiate a new custody case.

And that is what happened, but in a diabolical circumstance. The boys were located in Houston, Texas. Their mother was arrested and I and my attorney, Steven Pheterson, were "invited" to fly down to Houston and retrieve my sons at the airport from social service.
My former father-in-law hired the upscale law firm of Percy Foreman to charge in court that Texas law gave custody to any parent, custodial or non-custodial, who resided in Texas more than six months. The battle lines were drawn between New York law and Texas law and I and my sons were caught in the middle! After one week of claims and counter-claims in a Harris County, Texas courtroom, our case became the first test case of the new Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act which remanded the children back to their custodial state and we all went back to Rochester, New York.
The years passed by; peace and tranquility returned in spite of a few lawsuits and court appearances.  As soon as the boys became of age we relocated to the state of New Hampshire and began a new life.

After living a peaceful life in New Hampshire for ten years we returned to Rochester, New York to face the demons as survivors and not as humble victims subdued by haunting memories. Life is good, and Rochester is good, as long as the commandment, "thou shalt not steal" is obeyed beyond material things and applied to children, as well.

As I look back in retrospect, there are no winners in parental abduction - only losers who are the children, the parents, the grandparents and the extended family members.
It is my older son, Scott, who articulates the cause of children and gives real meaning to the legal phrase, "in the best interests of the children." Only he could know how it is to be a victim of child-stealing and child abuse and what it takes to become a survivor. I am very proud of Scott because he has emerged as a voice for children and child advocate as a member of the Board of Missing and Exploited Children. Scott is presently advocating to all our elected officials to change parental abduction from a misdemeanor to a felony. If our elected officials had ever lived through the nightmare of having their children stolen from them, they, too, would advocate to change the law and deter childstealing and reduce the over 300,000 parental abductions in the United States each year.

I would not wish my experience on anyone. However, people should learn from Scott and me the tragic consequences of parental abduction so they will not re-live it.

-Dale L. Berne, father and a survivor

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