What Are Michael Peterson's Kids Doing Today?

While ostensibly, the 2004 true-crime docuseries "The Staircase" is about Michael Peterson, the scope of the 13-part true-crime show is much larger than at first blush. Peterson was convicted in 2003 for the death of his second wife, Kathleen, and he was released in 2011 after a retrial was declared over cases of corruption involving a prosecutorial expert who was involved in Peterson's court battle. 

Among the components explored in the Netflix series (either satisfactorily or not, depending on any given critic or viewer) are how Peterson's sexuality, past, and more contributed to the alleged homicide of his wife and the process a defense team will go through in order to get their client acquitted. And while the camera focuses its lens primarily on Peterson, a menagerie of other key figures are also featured, including all five of his children.

As "The Staircase" covered in its exploration of the case, and as HBO's series of the same name does as well, the Peterson brood was, at least for a time, a close-knit bunch. The children included two sons, Todd and Clay, who were both Peterson's biological sons by way of his first marriage, and three daughters, Margaret, Martha, and Caitlin. But the docuseries inadvertently followed the unspooling of their family ties. So, what exactly happened? And what are the Peterson kids doing today? Keep reading to find out.

Divisions between Michael Peterson's kids quickly formed after his arrest

According to a 2018 write-up by Bustle, the lives of Michael Peterson's children changed literally overnight following the death of his second wife, Kathleen Peterson. As the outlet noted, their family unit was the product of divorce and an incident that took place years prior to Peterson's trial, one which would become a point of extreme interest for investigators and others who followed the case. The reason? Namely, Margaret and Martha, Peterson's adopted daughters, were the children of a close family friend, Elizabeth Ratliff, who had also died after falling down a staircase. The case was eerily similar to what happened to Kathleen nearly two decades later. 

While the death of Elizabeth Ratliff wasn't one that viewers were aware of in the initial episodes of "The Staircase," it can be more or less assumed that Peterson's children generally knew about the basics of the case. 

Caitlin Atwater — Kathleen's only biological child and Michael's stepdaughter — sided with the prosecution during Michael's trial for Kathleen's death. Atwater was the only one of the couple's five children to state that she believed Peterson had murdered her mother.

The rest of Michael Peterson's kids fully supported their father

As a 2018 Heavy explainer noted, Caitlin Atwater, now Caitlin Clark, was the only one out of her siblings to share her belief that Michael Peterson was guilty. And although some viewers of "The Staircase" might have expected his two other daughters, Margaret and Martha, to follow suit — especially considering the similarities between the deaths of their biological mother, Elizabeth Ratliff, and their adopted mother, Kathleen Peterson, roughly 17 years later — they seemingly never wavered in their support, or their opinion that Kathleen's death was an accident. 

At one point, Martha told the filmmakers behind "The Staircase" that although the time leading up to Peterson's trial was difficult to endure, it seemingly drew the remaining members of the Peterson clan (sans Caitlin) closer together. "Sometimes it gets to us all, and that's when everybody starts worrying about everyone else," she stated at the time (via Heavy). "But I wouldn't say I worry about my dad. He is probably the strongest person that I've ever met." 

But has this still remained the case?

Clayton Peterson still stands by his dad

Clayton Peterson lives in Maryland with his wife, Becky, and their sons, Dorian and Lucien Peterson, per Newsweek. Michael Peterson's oldest son shuns the spotlight but remains close to his dad and chooses to believe still that he's innocent. "No one knows what happened that night. And no one will ever know," Clayton told Dateline, insisting that he's totally confident that his dad isn't capable of murder.

The early episodes of "The Staircase" docu-series alluded to tension between Clayton and his father, but the source of it was never revealed. It's since transpired that Clayton was arrested for planting a pipe bomb on campus during his sophomore year at Duke, six years before Kathleen Peterson's death. According to The Chronicle, Clayton, an engineering student, also had a stash of explosives hidden at the family home in Durham, North Carolina. The Chronicle noted that he had a history of alcohol abuse and a love for explosives. In 1995, when Clayton was 20, he was sentenced to 49 months and handed a three-year drinking ban post-prison.

"I think that was the most painful thing that happened to me," Michael told the Greensboro News and Record at the time of Clayton's sentencing. "This is not how I planned to spend my 50s — going to visit my son in the pen." The tables were eventually turned, though. Later in the docu-series, Clayton is filmed visiting his father in prison along with a pregnant Becky and baby Dorian.

Todd Peterson has performed a serious 180

In a shocking turn of events, Todd Peterson posted a video in 2021, just months after his mom died, stating that he now believes Michael Peterson is guilty of killing Kathleen Peterson, Elizabeth Ratcliff, and his mom. "I'm about to call the cops for the murder of my mother, Patricia Peterson," Todd explained. "Who I now realize today... that the motivation was money. Just like I now believe with Kathleen."

In the video, Todd talked about his battle with alcoholism and alleged that after he left rehab, his dad tried to tempt him to start drinking again, and that's when he realized Michael was a serial murderer. "Until then, I was blind and stupid and thought he wouldn't hurt a family member," he said.

Todd claimed his mom had been suffering from heart problems for three hours by the time he arrived at her home the day before she died. Todd says that it was he who made the 911 call, as Michael hadn't bothered. Per Oxygen, Patricia, who was Michael's first wife, had been a staunch defender of him before, during, and after the trial, maintaining that he was innocent throughout. The couple even shared a house together until her death in July 2021. Todd insists she "would be alive today if it wasn't for [his] father." In a 2022 video, Todd made further allegations, claiming Michael was abusive to Patricia and that they divorced after she caught him in bed with Kathleen.

Margaret Peterson is channeling her trauma into a charity

Margaret Peterson also maintains that her "dad" didn't kill Kathleen Peterson — or her birth mom, Elizabeth Ratliff. Per Cinemaholic, Margaret now lives in Los Angeles. She continues to have a close relationship with Michael Peterson, despite telling The Guardian she was furious after he appeared on "Dr. Phil," calling it "such a strong violation" of her and her family.

Per Newsweek, Margaret's biological father, George Ratliff, died in 1983, so after Elizabeth's sudden death, Kathleen and Michael were the only parental figures she had. According to Vanity Fair, when Michael was arrested for Kathleen's murder, Margaret was terrified of losing him too. She felt "parent-less" after he was sentenced to life, so she agreed to film "The Staircase" purely in the hope that it would help to free her dad. However, after Netflix streamed the docu-series, it immediately blew up, resulting in Margaret unwittingly becoming a celebrity. She was propelled back into the spotlight following HBO's 2022 dramatization.

Margaret admits to being "traumatized" by watching her life play out on camera. She told The Guardian that she's undergone extensive therapy since "The Staircase" was released. "I do a lot of [Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing] trauma therapy," Margaret said, explaining that she's creating a non-profit to help other former documentary subjects heal. She also co-produced "Subject," a deep dive doc that explores what happens to people like herself after documentaries featuring their stories are released.

Martha Peterson is using her experiences of anxiety to help others

Margaret's sister, Martha Peterson, is also firmly #TeamMichael, continuing to believe in her dad's innocence. Martha also shuns the spotlight as much as possible, with no detectable social media presence or recent interviews. However, she does have a LinkedIn that says she lives in Loveland, Colorado, and is a licensed clinical social worker who runs a private counseling practice. "Working with children, adolescents, families, and adults," it states. "Specially qualified to work with children between birth and age 8 and their families."

Like Margaret Peterson, Martha was profoundly affected by the ordeal of Kathleen Peterson's death, Michael Peterson's arrest and incarceration, the documentary, and subsequent HBO dramatization. She admitted that she's struggled with bouts of anxiety over the years. "I used to suffer a lot from really bad nightmares; I used to have really bad panic attacks in public spaces because of being in the trial," Martha revealed (via the Independent). "My body and my whole nervous system will think that something like the trial is happening. For me, it's like my heart beats faster, I can't breathe, and I worry that I'm going to pass out."

Meanwhile, Martha confessed that her father's ordeal left her decidedly lacking faith in the criminal justice system. "I have no respect for it anymore," she said. "I can't respect something that you go into every day and have my dad abused, like verbally abused; it's a nightmare."

Caitlin Atwater is ensuring Michael Peterson pays somehow someway

These days, Caitlin Atwater is a married mom of twins living in Northern Virginia, per News Observer. Caitlin, whose dad is Kathleen Peterson's first husband, Fred Atwater, initially refused to believe Michael Peterson killed her mom. "My parents, Michael and Kathleen, had the most loving relationship ever," she told Dateline. "They were the most ideal parents." However, that all changed once she saw the gruesome autopsy pics.

WRAL reports that Caitlin filed a wrongful death civil suit against Michael in 2002. The case was finally settled six years later for $25 million. Still, Caitlin's not likely to ever see a penny of it as the bankrupt author continues to plead poverty. She'd agreed to hold payment until all of Michael's criminal appeals were spent. In 2017, Caitlin demanded the settlement be reinstated after Michael entered an Alford plea. With added interest, he now owes $30 million.

Despite preparing herself for the worst, no amount of money can replace the special moments Caitlin missed with her mom, though. "I think the big days, like getting married and having kids or buying a new home, the big things in your life, the anticipation of those, of not having my mom there, those weren't as bad as I thought because I was so dreading it," she told Indy Week. "When those moments finally arrive, you've already been through so much emotionally that, yes, it's still hard, but at least you know why it's hard."