Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Mom Confronts France for Kids; the French Foster System Is Keeping Them after Their Father's Death despite Their Mother Having Legal Custody

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Mom Confronts France for Kids; the French Foster System Is Keeping Them after Their Father's Death despite Their Mother Having Legal Custody

Article excerpt

Byline: PAUL PINKHAM, The Times-Union

There's a stereo, a computer, some hot posters on the wall and some cool clothes in the closet.

It's got everything a 15-year-old girl's bedroom needs except for one thing. The 15-year-old girl. She's never seen it.

Erika Fahrner -- along with her sister Jennifer, 12, and brother Jason, 7 -- have been stuck in the French foster care system since their father died in Paris in April. Their mother, who lives in Jacksonville, wants desperately to get them back, and has even decorated each of their bedrooms in the Southside apartment she shares with her new husband.

"It seems like a knife going in here," Marilou Dempsey says, covering her chest.

Today, Dempsey, who isn't a citizen of France or the United States, is flying to Paris, armed with an order from a French court granting her custody. It's an order French foster care officials have, without explanation, so far ignored.

"I want my kids to be here with me," said Dempsey, a permanent resident of the United States. "They have no family over there."

Dempsey, then Marilou Yu, married Norbert Fahrner in 1983 in France. When they divorced in 2001, she came to Jacksonville to be near her sister, and the children remained behind in Paris to finish their private schooling.

The divorce was amicable, Dempsey said. Fahrner flew her to France several times to visit the children, and she let them stay with him because she thought that was what was best for them.

"I didn't abandon them," she said. "I left them with him because I didn't have any place to live."

Fahrner gave her a letter saying if anything should happen to him, she should have custody of the children. At the time, he was in good health, and no one imagined how important the letter would become, said Dempsey's husband, Jim. …

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