Huffpost Divorce
THE BLOG

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Vikki Ziegler Headshot

When Custody Battles Turn Deadly

Posted: Updated:
Print

Hunting for three beautiful boys whose parents were in a nasty custody battle can turn deadly.

The Michigan police chief Larry Weeks is heading the investigation for three brothers who have been missing since Thanksgiving. The boys' father, John Skelton, has been arrested and is being held in an Ohio prison on three counts of parental kidnapping. Because he was arrested in Ohio, he will face an extradition hearing to be returned to Michigan, Weeks said.

The three boys were last seen last Thursday on Thanksgiving in the backyard of their father's southern Michigan home, about 12 miles from the Ohio-Michigan border.

The boys' father was in an Ohio hospital for several days receiving treatment for "mental health issues" after telling police he tried to hang himself, Weeks said. As soon as he was released he was arrested for kidnapping his own three sons.

Skelton originally told police that he gave his sons to a woman he met on the Internet so she could bring them to their mother, Tanya Skelton. However, the police have determined that Skelton lied about the woman he supposedly gave his sons to and they do not believe she exists, according to WBNS.

The police chief said Skelton is providing some information to investigators, but not all of it is credible, and they are not sure what to believe.

When his wife filed for divorce in September, the father of the three boys picked two of them up from school early and drove out of state. On Sept. 13, he packed his two oldest sons in the family van and drove to nearby Ohio only to return and then take off with them again to Florida.

It was the start of a nasty custody battle and possible precursor to all three boys' disappearance last week before their dad's suicide attempt.

Circuit Judge Margaret Noe told The Associated Press that Tanya Skelton received exclusive custody after John Skelton returned from Florida with the boys, but the couple subsequently negotiated an agreement that allowed visitation.

"The agreement was without my intervention," Noe said. "It is not unusual for judges to encourage parents to engage in agreements between themselves relative to visitation because they best know the circumstances."

After John Skelton returned the boys from Florida he had been seeing them "with no issues," said Kathye Herrera, who identified herself as a spokeswoman for Tanya Skelton.

Tanya Skelton said in a motion filed the same day as the divorce complaint that John Skelton's work as a truck driver kept him "on the road for weeks at a time." When he is home it's for a maximum of "two to three days at a time," she claimed and could not care for the children as the primary parent.

John Skelton filed a motion for custody on Sept. 27, saying his wife was a registered sex offender and was unfit to parent their three children.

The question here is: why did this happen? Custody battles are often acrimonious and ugly with both sides feeling down and out. But it is never an option to hide children from the other parent or even worse harm them. Courts of equity always review custody cases and make informed decisions with mental health professionals.

Here, in this case, both parents "agreed" on a parenting schedule where they would both see the children and continue to regularly parent. What went wrong? Why did this father feel so desperate that he may have done the unthinkable? Had he undergone therapy would he have learned to cope with the divorce and financial ruin? Would he have been able to cope not living under the same roof with the children on a daily basis? Did he cry out for help since the inception of the divorce proceeding?

Using your children as a pawn is never the answer. These beautiful boys deserved to be loved by both parents. We pray for the safe return of the Skelton boys and pray that no one ever takes a custodial dispute into their own hands. Remember, the test is always the best interest of the children not the parents.