Kelly and Kimberly Yates: 2 Missing Children Taken from Dad by Mom 30 years ago are Located

Family Law Attorney Kelly Chang Rickert Discusses the Kidnapping of Kimberly and Kelly Yates from Kelly Chang Rickert on Vimeo.
This morning, CNN Headline News asked me to opine on the Yates case.  What an amazing story!

In 1985, Russell and Elaine Yates were married, with 2 children, Kelly (10 months old) and Kimberly Yates (3 years old).   Russell was a royal jerk.  He cheated on her NUMEROUS times.  Elaine caught him once, on a yacht – that was the final straw.

Weeks later, she tried to confront him with this incident, and they ended up fighting, and he beat her, sending her to the Emergency Room.  He states that she kicked and punched him too.  Not too long after, Russell came home in the middle of the night, discovering empty beds and cribs.

Russell tried to file a missing persons report.  “They’re with mom”, “It’s just a domestic dispute” — “Just wait it out”, they all told him.  They never came back.

He hired lawyers and police.  He had to file a Custody Case so there are orders.  But he had to serve those orders because the law mandates Due Process.  But he couldn’t find her.

30 years later, the 2 girls, who are now in their mid-30’s, are discovered, living in Texas with their mom, who now has a new name, Liana Waldberg.

So what do I think of all this?

The first thing that comes up in my brain (after 20 years of family law) is this kinda of crap just does NOT happen to normal families.  One does NOT leave with babies in the middle of the night!  Whenever this comes up – and believe me, it has come up in my daily life, “Oh, I was traveling for weeks, and then I came home to a empty house with a process server – because HE took my baby and moved out!”…. I scratch my head because it is simply not the easiest thing to LEAVE when you have 2 babies!  Do NOT treat your spouse like crap!!  There are consequences!!  Yes, be a decent human being.  No cheating.  No lying.  No abusing your spouse.  No staying out late to drink and party on a yacht and have sex with other people.   That’s rule #1.

Then after I settle down in my disbelief that people’s behaviors are just appalling, I begin to think like a lawyer.  If I were HIM, I would immediately file a police report.  I would file a report with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.  Thereafter I would file a Petition for Custody and Support and go in immediately ex parte to obtain custody orders. Then I would get what are called “3130 orders”.
There is a HOST of legal things I would do.

One complicating factor is that this couple was NOT in the process of divorce.  It wasn’t technically a “custody battle”.  She actually just took off.  I actually feel an overwhelming sense of sadness for her.  Imagine how profoundly desperate she must have felt to take 2 babies and escape on the run.  I physically would never have the strength to do this.  Psychologically, I would be crushed.  Then she raised them on her own.  I am not justifying her actions, which are criminal.  Just sad.

But after 30 years of being separated, as a father, I think i would do everything in my power to reach them – email them – go to them, seek reunification therapy and be reunited.

I am not sure what will happen to these girls now.  They are adults, probably with families of their own.  I would think both of them need counseling to be able to connect with this stranger who is their “father”.

Mr. Yates does not want to prosecute Mrs. Yates.  He said as long as she didn’t hurt them, he is ok.

Interestingly enough, a 2009 Texas Court Order which changed Elaine Yates’ name to Liana Walberg had listed both her maiden and married names.  You would figure every name change would be inserted into a database and communicated to the agencies to handle all of this.

My heart bleeds for these people.  I pray every night for maturity and selflessness.  I think that’s the best way to describe what i see lacking every day in my cases.

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Kelly Chang Rickert

Kelly Chang Rickert (formerly Kelly Yi-Yi Chang) is the founder of the Law Offices of Kelly Chang, A Professional Law Corporation, a firm dedicated exclusively to Family Law. She has been certified by the California State Bar Board of Legal Specialization as a Family Law Specialist. She is frequently quoted in the media, and is a legal expert for Style Network, TV Guide and MTV on Mel Gibson, Tiger Woods, Britney Spears, Christie Brinkley and Madonna divorce and custody cases.

1 Comment
  • KR
    January 24, 2017 12:39 pm

    It seems like an extraordinarily complicated case.

    As you pointed out, Elaine Yates’ actions weren’t illegal when she disappeared with the children. Weeks later, Russell petitioned for sole custody of his children, but there is no indication that Elaine was even aware of his petition. (I doubt that she was in touch with friends or family. The police and private investigators should have been able to track her if she was.) Russell won sole custody, because Elaine wasn’t available to contest his petition. Given the documented abuse, it seems unlikely that he would have received custody otherwise.

    I’m not sure whether custody orders can be retroactively overturned for that reason, but it’s an interesting way that Elaine could try to defend herself in court.

    The Child Snatching law wasn’t passed until 1988, which was when her actions became criminal. Since the worldwide web wasn’t created until 1989 (and she had likely left Rhode Island immediately), it seems unlikely that she was keeping track of changes in Rhode Island law. It’s unclear when (or if) Elaine became aware of the change in the law and her fugitive status.

    News reports have been a little thin on details, but it sounds like Elaine Yates got an alias, got a job, bought a house, and raised her daughters as a single mother. At least one (likely both) of the daughters have college degrees. It’s been reported that both have kids of their own.

    I doubt that this case will ever go to trial. Russell Yates isn’t in favor of prosecuting. More importantly, one of the affirmative defenses is if “the person was fleeing an incidence or pattern of domestic violence.” Given Russell Yates’ admissions, that fact does not seem to be in dispute.

    However, as one last complication, domestic violence wasn’t criminalized until 1988 either.

    If this case moves forward, it could set some interesting precedents.

    Regarding a possible reunion between Russell Yates and his daughters:
    Apparently, the police gave Russell’s contact info to the daughters, but they did not give the daughters’ contact info to Russell Yates. I believe that was the reason that he feels the choice is theirs, not his.

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