Three-Way Custody Battle Ends With Aunt And Uncle Gaining Child
MARY HELEN GILLESPIE
Dec. 15, 1987
BRIDGETON, N.J. (AP) _ The aunt and uncle of 5-year-old Rachel Rauser say they'll wait to tell her the details of a custody dispute that began when Rachel's father was charged with trying to sell her to them for $100,000.
The dispute ended Monday when a judge granted custody of Rachel to Deborah and Gary Stern, who posed as buyers on March 10 when Joseph Waltman was arrested in the parking lot of Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.
Waltman, 23, of Alloway Township, is free on $10,000 bail pending his trial next year on charges of endangering the welfare of a child. The Sterns, of Sunrise, Fla., cooperated with police in the arrest.
Mrs. Stern, who plans to greet Rachel with the news of her pending move to Florida when she comes home from school today, said ''there'll be plenty of time'' to tell the blond-haired child the story.
''It's a great Christmas present,'' she said after the hearing, which was closed to the public.
Two other parties, including Rachel's former stepmother and the girl's grandparents, received extensive visitation rights under an agreement approved by Superior Court Judge George H. Stanger Jr.
Stanger, in a statement released by his office, said he awarded custody to the Sterns based on expert testimony. He did not elaborate.
The stepmother, Cynthia Sullivan-Waltman of Salem, who is Waltman's estranged wife, has had temporary custody of Rachel since April.
Mrs. Stern is the sister of Rachel's mother, Michal Rauser, who died in a car accident in 1984. Michal Rauser and Waltman, 23, never married.
Mrs. Stern said Ms. Sullivan-Waltman and her parents, John and Ruby Rauser of Elmer, would visit the girl five times a year under the court agreement.
Ms. Sullivan-Waltman declined comment. The attorney for the Rausers, Joseph Shanahan, said he thought his clients would be pleased with the visitation agreement.
Gary Newman, the Sterns' attorney, said the judge ruled after the other parties did not contest testimony from four psychologists and the girl's court-appointed guardian that indicated the Sterns could offer the best home for Rachel.
''We will do what's best for Rachel,'' said Stern, who has two children near Rachel's age.
The Sterns brought Rachel to Florida after Waltman was accused of trying to sell the child, but returned her to New Jersey when a judge granted Ms. Sullivan-Waltman temporary custody in April.
The Sterns were indicted on charges of criminal contempt and interference with custody by a Salem County grand jury for initially refusing to return Rachel. The couple has applied for a supervised probation program.
In March, a Superior Court judge awarded Rachel a $3 million settlement as part of a lawsuit the Rausers brought against the trucking company involved in the accident that killed Michal Rauser.
As a result, Rachel will receive a lump-sum payment when she turns 18 and monthly payments of $1,500 for life.