Divorce Recovery Mindset: The Case of the Kidnapped Son

Earl’s Kidnapped Son: A Real-Life Test of the Choice to be Right or to be Happy

After several years of marriage, a close friend of mine, I’ll call him Earl, got divorced from Sheryl. They had joint custody of their 8-year-old son. Sheryl asked Earl if she could take their son on a 7-day, church-sponsored tour to Israel. Earl gave his permission.

The kidnapping. When the tour group returned home again, Sheryl and their son were not with them. Sheryl had absconded with their they son with no intention of returning to the US. Earl contacted the State Department. They couldn’t help since Sheryl was the mother. Earl contacted INTERPOL. They were no help. Then Earl hired a local private investigator in Jerusalem, the last place the tour group had seen them. He couldn’t find them.

Meanwhile, Earl had planned to get remarried a week after his son and Sheryl were supposed to return. His son was going to be the ring bearer in the wedding ceremony. On the day of the wedding, Sheryl and his son had still not returned.

They went ahead with the wedding ceremony without his son’s presence. Earl and his new bride cancelled their honeymoon and booked airfare to Israel.

The search. After a week of fruitless searching throughout Jerusalem with the private investigator, Earl had about given up. Their return flight was Sunday evening. Then, Sunday morning, the day they were to return to the US, they tried one last time to “stake out” one of the few English-speaking churches in Jerusalem, thinking this would be a natural place for his wife to go.

Sure enough, right there in front of them, they watched Sheryl and his son enter the church. Sheryl went into the main sanctuary and their son went to a Sunday school class.

Earl walked into the Sunday school room, took his son by the hand, hailed a taxi to the airport, and returned home with him.

A few days later, Sheryl also returned to the US.

The decision. Now Earl had a choice to make. Should he have Sheryl arrested for kidnapping, or at least, violating the terms of their divorce? Should he tell his son the truth that his mother had tried to prevent him from seeing his father ever again? Should he stand up in the court of public opinion and paint an accurate picture of what Sheryl did and castigate her in front of her friends and relatives?

Or, should he do nothing to punish his ex for her heinous behavior?

Eric was under great pressure from his friends to lock Sheryl up and throw away the key. He chose not to.

All he did was get the custody agreement amended so he had full custody and require all visitations of his son with his mother be supervised by a court-appointed social worker. In essence, he gave his ex a pass on kidnapping his son and attempting to cut him off from his father forever.

The rationale. Earl figured his and his new wife’s happiness would be severely hampered by a long, drawn-out court case, and his son would suffer by seeing his mother arrested and ultimately incarcerated. His son would benefit by having a relationship with his mother, flawed as she was, and his son’s safety would be protected by the supervised visits.

Earl suffered from knowing his friends thought he let Sheryl off lightly, and their belief he looked weak in doing so. Many thought Sheryl should be severely punished for what she did.

Earl’s bottom line was “What would be best for him, his new wife, and his son? What would bring my family the greatest happiness going forward?” He was not concerned with what would be the most appropriate treatment for Sheryl.

So, What’s the Point?

By honoring his desire to bring the most happiness into his home with his son and new wife, Earl epitomizes the courage it takes to truly live the philosophy that being happy is more rewarding than being right.

Earl’s story stands as a beacon to every divorced person who dares to ask the question, “Am I strong enough to let being happy be enough?”



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