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Cross-Country “Family Vacation” Ends With Criminal Prosecution

An odd parental kidnapping case that began in Illinois and ended in Georgia has a North Texas connection.

Court documents state that after Michalene Melges argued with her ex-husband in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, she vowed he would “never see the kids again.” She then rented a van in Lake Bluff, Illinois and drove with her three children – 14-year-old Hans, 12-year-old Kristen, and 10-year-old Buddy – to Plano, Texas, where she returned the vehicle. The four people then promptly disappeared, triggering an official investigation. Roughly two weeks later, the family was spotted at a Savannah, Georgia, motel by another Lake Geneva resident who, by sheer coincidence, happened to be in the same place at the same time.

Ms. Melges, whom authorities say has been “very vague” about the entire episode, now faces multiple criminal charges, including three counts each of interference with child custody and contributing to the delinquency of a minor.


Parental kidnapping is the most extreme form of Parental Alienation Syndrome, a common condition in divorced families. In these situations, the alienating parent tries to drive an emotional wedge between the children and the targeted parent.

The Collin County Standing Orders in family law cases, and the temporary orders in most Collin County divorce cases, address the more flagrant types of PAS, for example, by prohibiting a parent from making disparaging remarks about the other parent within the presence or earshot of the children. But PAS has many forms, including:

  • Intentionally scheduling activities, like sleepovers or soccer games, that interfere with the other parent’s visitation schedule,
  • Repeated last-minute changes to prior pick-up and drop-off arrangements,
  • Replacing the traditional parent-child relationship with one that more closely resembles a spousal relationship, g. using a child as an emotional confidant or discussing finances and other “grown-up” subjects, and
  • Granting special privileges, like more TV time or a later bedtime.

Any one of these items may endanger the children’s long-term physical health or emotional development.

What to Do

Many experts agree that the damage inflicted by PAS is practically irreversible, so early intervention is key. One or two isolated incidents, especially if they are accompanied by a good excuse, can probably be overlooked, but any pattern of conduct should trigger a motion to modify custody or visitation.

Judges who routinely see family law cases are usually more familiar with the symptoms and after-effects of PAS, as are the social workers that are  routinely assigned to contested modification motions. As a result, a motion to modify is likely to stir action, whereas family counselling may do little or no good.

Even a “loss” is a “win” in many of these cases. If the judge is not willing to make substantive changes regarding custody and/or visitation, the motion and hearing  put the alienating parent on notice about the issues and may lead to voluntary change, which is sometimes more long-lasting than forced change.

Parental Alienation Syndrome can destroy the family bonds that it took years to form. For a free consultation with an experienced family law attorney in McKinney, contact the Law Office of Bryan D. Perkins. Convenient payment plans are available.

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