The courts took nearly four years to grant Lauralee Curtis a divorce last December, ending her 20-year marriage, something she welcomed as a solution to her marriage's irreconcilable differences.
But rather than solve any problems, the divorce and ensuing child-custody battle have resulted in the double kidnapping of five of the couple's eight children. Curtis and her former husband, William Greg Curtis, may face prison terms as a result."I just took what was mine," Mrs. Curtis said of a trip this month to Mississippi to bring her children back to Orem. "The legal system didn't work. It didn't protect me or my kids."
A 4th District Court divorce decree granted Mrs. Curtis custody of four of her eight children. A fifth child chose to live with her rather than her father, who was still living in Utah. But after picking up the children, ages 3 to 14, for a visit in February, Mr. Curtis refused to return them and left the state for Mississippi. In March, a Mississippi judge ignored the Utah custody decree and granted Mr. Curtis temporary protective custody.
The Utah County attorney's office charged Mr. Curtis with custodial interference, a third-degree felony, but decided not to list him with the National Crime Information Center. The move would have paved the way for his arrest in Mississippi and eventual extradition to Utah, but attorneys felt Mrs. Curtis hadn't exhausted civil-court options for getting her children back.
When Mrs. Curtis went to Mississippi last week with hired help and retrieved her children, Mississippi authorities wasted no time listing her with the NCIC.
"We charged her because we had no choice under the uniform extradition act," said Deputy County Attorney Kay Bryson, who called the case "a bucket of worms."
Mrs. Curtis was charged Tuesday with being a fugitive from justice, a third-degree felony, in connection with taking her children from her husband. She said she plans to fight extradition.
Mr. Curtis soon may be fighting extradition as well because the Utah County attorney's office has decided after all to ask Mississippi authorities to arrest him and return him to Utah for prosecution. He admitted taking the children out of concern for their welfare.
Interviewed by phone Wednesday, he said he won't fight extradition or any other legal measures that eventually could reunite him with his children and formerwife.
"I would go anywhere if I knew we really could sit down and try to work this out. My biggest concern is keeping the family together," he said. "I really don'tunderstand why we're not all together. I would like to have my wife and my family back."
Mrs. Curtis berated the legal system and the county attorney's office for notcoming to her aid. "It's just not what's just or right," she said of the system that charged her with a crime for trying to enforce custodial rights.
"I didn't break a law. I have custody," Mrs. Curtis said. She said her formerhusband is merely using the couple's children to get her back, and the legal system seems to be helping him.
About the only thing the couple agree on is that their children are confused and will be lucky to come out of the custody fight without emotional scars.
"Criminal action won't solve the problems," Bryson said. "The children are the ones paying the price for what the parents are doing."