Balloon Boy Fallout – Should Heenes Lose Custody of Children if Guilty of Hoax?

Amber Watson-Tardiff, who posts a regular column on about Parenting Advice for New Jersey parents asked me to comment for an article she was writing about the fallout from Balloon Boy, including anticipating court intervention with the parents.

You can read the whole article here – and I’ve pasted most of the column below (and bolded my portion for my mom’s easy reading):

It was just a week ago that the nation was captivated and horrified by the runaway weather balloon that supposedly carried away six-year-old Falcon Heene–or so we thought. But the Heenes could now be, charged with staging an elaborate hoax.

While most people seem to be focused on the criminal charges the Heenes may face, what damage was inflicted on their children? And does the state of Colorado have grounds to intervene?

Clearly the incident had a detrimental effect on balloon boy himself, as the world watched him vomit on live TV during an interview with Meredith Viera.

Today we hear accusations from a former co-worker of Mayumi Heene claiming that Richard Heene is unbalanced and worrying that a Jonestown incident could ensue if his wife and children are not taken out of the home immediately and placed in protective care (apparently Richard was trying to earn enough money from a reality show so they could build a bunker and hide from the sun exploding in 2012).

And while I hate to see any child taken out their home and placed into the hands of strangers, there may be legitimate cause for concern.

In fact, it may already be too late to avoid state involvement according to Victor Medina, managing partner of Medina, Martinez & Castroll, a Pennington, NJ law firm focused on counseling families in crisis.

According to Medina, the state agency charged with child welfare has a responsibility to make sure the Heene kids are safe.

“If this was truly a hoax, you can bet the parents will have to explain why they thought it was a good idea to involve their kids in this stunt. If it wasn’t a hoax, then Richard and Mayumi Heene will still have to say why they permitted such a potentially dangerous situation to unfold. Either way, the Heenes can expect to answer for their actions as parents,” he said.

But state intervention isn’t always the answer, Medina contends. “By all accounts, this was a loving, if misguided, family. Sometimes the court system can get over-involved in the lives of a family and create more of a mess down the road. As in all things, reactions have to be carefully measured so that the best interests of the children, both balloon boy and his siblings, are served,” he says.

So what, if anything, can the Heenes do at this point to ensure their kids don’t wind up in the care of strangers if they are incarcerated or deemed unfit as parents by the state?

According to Georgia Family Law attorney, Steve Worrell, it’s not too late to make custody arraignments should both parents get slapped with jail time.

Worrell says, “The Heenes can name guardians now for their kids in the event the state deems it necessary to intervene. Then if they are found to be unfit, their choice of guardians will likely be honored by a court unless the selected parties are also found to be unfit.”

Only time will tell what’s going to happen with these poor children, but I’d like to know what you think? Should the state intervene to protect the welfare of these kids? Or is this just a case of poor judgment from otherwise loving parents that can be easily fixed with counseling?

Article written by Amber Watson-Tardiff and featured at Parenting Guidance Section posted here on October 22, 2009.