Lorain County is ground zero for international custody battle between globetrotting couple
CLEVELAND — Claire Simcox fled Mexico and her husband of 14 years under cover of night 1½ years ago with four of her children in tow.
Now a federal judge has ordered two of the children to be returned to Joe Simcox and his Mexican home, saying Claire Simcox, who is now living in Columbia Township, violated an international treaty that prevents parents from taking their children across international borders without the consent of the other parent.
Claire Simcox’s attorney, Alan Hirth, said his client was only trying to protect her children from an abusive father who regularly beat her and the children.
“She and the kids were at risk from Joe, and she basically left because that’s what she felt she had to do to protect her children and herself,” Hirth said.
Last month, before the ruling, Joe Simcox denied being a bad father or husband and said losing his children was the hardest thing he’s ever had to deal with.
“I was reduced to trembling,” he said.
14 years, 45 countries
Since their marriage on Dec., 16, 1991, in England, when she was 18 and he was 28, the Simcoxes have hop scotched around the globe to further Joe Simcox’s career as a botanical explorer, collecting, planting and selling exotic plant seeds.
Over the years, the couple had five children, all born in different countries. Their first, Alicia, now 14, was born in France less than a year after they married. Peter, now 12, was born in Italy; Celeste, now 10, was born in Ethiopia; Dmitri, now 8, was born in Greece; while the youngest, Sistina, now 4, was born in Mexico.
Court documents — filed in the federal case and in divorce and domestic violence protection order cases filed by Claire Simcox in Lorain County Common Pleas Court — proclaim the couple lived in more than 45 countries over the years. The children were home schooled and spent a majority of their time helping their father collect and grow seeds for his business.
In his June 29 decision, U.S. District Court Judge Christopher Boyko described the family’s lifestyle as “nomadic” and noted that even when they settled in one place, as they appear to have done in Veracruz, Mexico, sometime between 2002 and 2004, they continued to take extended trips to collect seeds.
A history of violence
Testimony and sworn statements from both sides paint a picture of violence as a way of life in the Simcox family.
“Clearly, corporal punishment, including spanking, hair pulling and use of a belt, was not uncommon,” Boyko wrote. “Furthermore, the testimony revealed arguments between Joseph and Claire would sometimes become physically violent.”
Claire Simcox’s attorneys told county Domestic Relations Judge David Basinski when she asked him for a protection order in February 2006 that throughout the marriage, her husband had been physically abusive and held her and the children “hostage” and moved constantly to avoid business associates and financial obligations.
The children also recalled acts of violence on their father’s part, but Joe Simcox and his eldest daughter, who continues to live with him in Mexico, described Claire Simcox as equally violent, according to court records.
Across the border
Joe Simcox said when he woke up on Jan. 30, 2006, his family was simply gone.
He suspects he was drugged by his wife so she could take the children back to the United States to join her lover — his former business associate, Daniel Wepplo, whom he had asked to leave the family’s home in Mexico just a month before, court documents said.
During the trial in U.S. District Court earlier this year, Claire Simcox admitted to the affair, and acknowledged her relationship with Wepplo has continued.
When Claire Simcox, who could not be reached for comment Tuesday, arrived at her sister’s home in Columbia Township after fleeing Mexico, she filed for a protection order and, a few months later, filed for divorce.
Meanwhile, Joe Simcox flew to France to take custody of Alicia, who had been staying with relatives. He also began trying to get his children back by filing divorce papers and a police report in Mexico. He even sought a restraining order from a court in Michigan, where his mother lives, that sought to keep Claire Simcox away from their oldest daughter.
According to court documents filed by Claire Simcox’s attorneys, he also began a campaign of harassment and terror, even sending his family members to check up on the children in Ohio.
Boyko said in his ruling that he interviewed three of the couple’s five children. The three, all of whom came to the United States with Claire Simcox, said they were afraid of their father and had no desire to return to Mexico with him.
While Boyko found that 12-year-old Peter and 10-year-old Celeste were old enough to help determine which parent they wanted to live with, he couldn’t say the same of 8-year-old Dmitri. And while he expressed serious concerns about returning any of the children to Joe Simcox’s custody, he felt he had no choice under international treaties signed by both the United States and Mexico.
“(Joe Simcox) exhibits an arrogance, a need to be in control and a tendency to act violently,” Boyko wrote, also noting that Joe Simcox’s own family described him as “mean” and one of his friends said Jews had more freedom under Nazi rule than Claire Simcox had with her husband.
But Boyko also was concerned about Claire Simcox’s behavior, saying her “cold indifference” to Alicia’s welfare — whom Claire Simcox left in France — was at odds with her efforts to portray herself as a concerned mother.
The federal ruling doesn’t end the Simcoxes’ legal battles.
The couple still is fighting a divorce battle in Lorain County, and Claire Simcox can appeal Boyko’s decision to a federal appeals court.
In the meantime, Hirth, her attorney, said his client plans to abide by the judge’s order and will return Dmitri and Sistina to her husband by the July 30 deadline if the decision isn’t overturned.
“I’m worried about what Joseph will do and hope he will comply with the orders of the court,” Hirth said.
Joe Simcox did not respond to a request for an interview Tuesday.
But in an angry e-mail to Hirth and another of his wife’s attorneys, did promise to work within the confines of the Mexican legal system to get a divorce and custody of his children. But he also made it clear that he’s willing to do whatever it takes to see his children again.
“There will be no end to the means which I will pursue to arrive to see them and have access to the children I love and live for,” he wrote in the e-mail to Hirth.
Contact Brad Dicken at 329-7147 or firstname.lastname@example.org.