Wednesday, December 11, 2013
A Fairfield woman charged with abducting her children during a supervised visit last week had lost an ongoing battle recently to regain custody of the two children, court documents show.
BethMarie Retamozzo protests against the state Department of Health and Human Services in Skowhegan on Aug. 31, 2012. Retamozzo, accused of abducting her children during a supervised visit on Thursday and captured in South Carolina on Saturday, was most recently judged unable to care for her children on Aug. 8 by probate Judge John Alsop, who wrote, "A child is at risk when his or her parent fails to recognize danger, denies obvious facts, lies to the court appointed guardian and is also willing to lie in court."
Staff file photo by David Leaming
Joel and Joslyn Retamozzo
BethMarie Retamozzo, 34, had been fighting since May 2011 for custody of the children, Joslyn and Joel Retamozzo, whose guardianship she voluntarily gave to her mother in 2009 when Retamozzo went into the military.
Since then, the courts have questioned her ability to care for the children, and her attempts to regain custody have been "long and ongoing," according to her lawyer, Ernie Hilton.
Waterville police Chief Joseph Massey said Monday he believed the children's grandparents, Pamela and Kevin Taylor, of Fairfield, had traveled to South Carolina to retrieve the children from the South Carolina Department of Social Services, where they have been held since Saturday. A spokesperson for the department said Monday that the children were no longer in custody there.
When Joslyn Retamozzo, 7, and her brother Joel, 6, disappeared Thursday, police said they were concerned about the children's safety but would not say why.
Hilton said he could not disclose the name of the supervisor present at the visit in which Retamozzo disappeared with the children, and police also have declined to give the name of the supervisor. However, court documents lists Jen Dore, Retamozzo's landlord, as the only supervisor the court had approved.
The most recent decision in the custody case for the two children, which was handled by Somerset County probate court on Aug. 8, allowed Retamozzo to develop a list of acceptable supervisors that were required to also be approved by the court or a court-appointed lawyer to represent the interest of the children.
Visits were allowed to include overnight visits at Retamozzo's home or a supervisor's home.
The court order, issued by probate judge John Alsop after a June 27 hearing, concluded that the children's grandparents would continue to hold guardianship of the children. Retamozzo had been seeking full custody of the children, but Alsop decided against allowing that.
"A child is at risk when his or her parent fails to recognize danger, denies obvious facts, lies to the court appointed guardian and is also willing to lie in court," Alsop wrote.
Alsop wrote that Retamozzo lacked credibility when testifying and had given false statements to authorities. Court records also show that she made statements about wanting to kill herself and her children and inappropriately touching her 6-year-old son.
In addition, court records show that Retamozzo has a protection order against her boyfriend, Sanders Svenson. In one incident described in court documents, Svenson is reported to have hit Joslyn with a belt and to have exposed himself to the 7-year-old girl.
Alsop wrote that he did not believe Retamozzo's explanations regarding Svenson's appearance with her in certain locations. The court order bars Svenson from being present during any visits with the children.
"For reasons unfathomable to the court, she would rather have Sven in her life than to reunite with her children," the probate judge wrote.
One week after that court decision, one of those visits didn't go as planned. On Thursday, Retamozzo and the children never showed up at the park where they were supposed to meet the supervisor.
Supervision in focus
There are no clear laws for designating a supervisor or for holding supervisors accountable, according to James Burke, a law professor at the University of Maine School of Law.
The Department of Health and Human Services gets involved in probate court cases only if the court orders it to do so, department spokesman John Martins said. He said the department was not involved in the supervision of visits in this case. Court records show that the department is involved in other aspects of the case, such as providing counseling services.
Retamozzo, who has been charged with two counts of criminal restraint by a parent, a class C felony, is being held at the Colleton County Detention Center in Walterboro, S.C., according to Bridget Wyant, spokeswoman for the South Carolina Highway Patrol.
Her children, who were found by South Carolina Highway Patrol officers at 10:15 p.m. Saturday sleeping in their mother's van at a rest stop off Interstate 95's southbound lanes, were reported to be safe, according to Massey.
Burke said there are a number of challenges to appointing supervisors in custody cases, regardless of whether the children may be considered in "jeopardy," a term that refers to concerns about the welfare of the children. Overall, he said, the court system is overwhelmed with cases similar to the Retamozzos' and doesn't have enough people, money, time or other resources to handle the specifics of supervision.
The problem is not just legal, but social, he said. Burke said the court almost never appoints someone, but rather the two parties involved select someone they agree upon to supervise the visits.
"There are problems in highly conflicted family matters where a supervisor is needed, but the problem is that there is nothing in place to provide that supervisor," Burke said.
There are no criteria or screening processes for the person who supervises the visits, although some nonprofit groups work to provide such people, Burke said.
He said the system operates under the assumption that people will behave maturely, but sometimes that doesn't happen.
There is also no simple definition of "supervision," Burke said. It is not unheard of for a parent to drive the children to or from the area where they will be supervised, he said.
"What works in one circumstance might not work in another," he said.
Hilton said the last few months have been distressing for BethMarie Retamozzo, who has five other children, including a 2-year-old daughter of whom she has legal custody, and that her attempts to regain the custody of Josyln and Joel have been long and drawn-out.
"It has been an incredibly distressing situation for her, especially since she could have her baby but not the other two children," Hilton said.
Annalee Bloom, an attorney appointed by the state to represent the interests of Joslyn and Joel Retamozzo in court, said she had no comment on the situation.
Rachel Ohm — 612-2368
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