Custody in crisis: When desperation rules

Young lives can be lost through obsessive and desperate custody battles. Photo: creative commons

WASHINGTON, July 19, 2013 Sometimes an individual case jumps into view with an impact that cannot be avoided. The case of mother of four – referred to as “M” versus the father “B” is such an example. All effort has been made to protect the identity and location of those concerned.

There is abundant conflicting case information posted by both parties and their supporters online. “M’s” prolific self-promotion rivals any star in a reality TV show. She invites publicity and is eager to show she has been mistreated by the court.

“M” recently commenced a 60-day jail term she claims is unjust and unsafe in respect of her status as a disability claimant requiring special accommodations and as a long suffering victim of domestic violence and judicial corruption.

“M” is active in victim advocacy in custody cases involving domestic violence. She is an outspoken campaigner with a loud rallying cry. She posts pictures of herself energetically posing outside the jailhouse despite having said she needs a wheelchair to aid with mobility and a heart monitor to register her tachycardia.

This case is a tragedy on many levels. It has at its center, four children, one of whom, the first born,  “B’s” non-biological son, is dead. The police report shows that at age-17, he took his own life with a firearm while high on drugs and alcohol, after having skidded into a ditch in a borrowed car.

When police reached him, he was still alive, gasping for breath, surrounded by weapons he had taken from his paternal grandparents’ house when under their guardianship.

A hand drawn map he had with him suggests that, heavily armed, he was on route for his mother’s house when he went off the road. “M” has tried to take a “wrongful death” case out against the grandparents.

On that side of the family gun ownership seems to be a way of life. The children were taken on hunting expeditions from an early age and taught to be “tough.”

Letters and comments from the children posted online describe what could plausibly be their father’s tough love.  They mention incidents of hitting, swearing, shaming, humiliating and of denigrating their mother. There are letters describing fear of the father’s temper and distress at his anger at their mother. Their content has provided ample opportunity for “M” to make accusations of child abuse and parental alienation.

 “M” has repeatedly claimed her marriage was violent and that “B” broke her back during an incident of domestic violence after an initial separation.

On the face of it, the picture doesn’t look positive for “B.” However, this is a case where first appearances are very misleading.

Police reports and other primary evidence sources tell a very different story.

“M” has constantly sought to have “B” investigated for child abuse, but so far no reports have concurred with her allegations. Injuries sustained by the children have been investigated by police or social services investigators and recorded as “accidental” with no culpability placed on the father.

When questioned, the father has never denied making mistakes that resulted in accidents or occasionally “swatting” a child who was acting dangerously. There is abundant evidence to show the children have been happy in the father’s home and have generally thrived when in his care.

The domestic violence incident on which “M” pins her broken back and neck issues occurred in the summer of 1998, after four and a half years of marriage. The couple had just separated. “B” readily admitted to the police he had pushed his wife through an apartment entry doorway onto the floor after she had tried to end an earnest conversation they were having. He said he regretted losing control and that there had only ever been one prior incident during the marriage.

An assessment of injuries was made and both parties were found to have carpet burns. “B” had an abrasion to a knee and “M” was noted to have carpet abrasions on the left side of her upper face and forehead. There was no mention of injury to her neck or back.

The couple reunited after this incident and stayed together until spring 2002. There were no reports of further domestic violence during this period and no indication of neck or back injury.

Their fourth child was conceived in 2002 and “B” states the final separation came because “M” told him her pregnancy was by another man. “M” had been pregnant when the relationship first began but “B” welcomed the first child as his own. He claims there was more than one incident of infidelity by “M” during the marriage. Her counter claims have not been substantiated.

 Uncertainty of the fourth child’s paternity is corroborated by written record of child support transactions between “M” and another man stemming from this period.

A paternity test taken in February 2004, showed “B” was the child’s father, yet “M” continued to request and receive child support from the other man for some months after the test results were known. Evidence shows he later sought to reclaim these payments through an attorney after “M” refused to refund him.

There is also evidence of an EMS call to the address registered as “M’s” residence on February 24th 2004, well after the couple’s separation. The call sheet notes: “possible neck injury,” and “called by: ACCD.”

After initial cooperation on parenting and visitation, with “M” having primary custody and “B” allowed ample visitation, in May 2002 “M” was arrested and charged with domestic violence against “B.” She drove her car into him as a waited outside her home while preparations were underway for a weekend visitation. The three eldest children all gave police witness statements describing mom’s intense and frightening anger. They state her actions appeared intentional. They contradict “M’s” claim that they were running around in the driveway causing distraction. “B” was not seriously hurt, but the children have said they were traumatized.

Far more disturbing, is the detailed record of police and social services reports on conditions in which the children were kept while “M” was primary custodian.

The family was unable to sustain an adequate home for any period of time and listings track them across different addresses. On one occasion, they spent several months in a trailer with no running water, gas or electricity due to “M’s” failure to make agreed payments on the property.

An officer from the local police department, officer “R,” recalls how he and other officers were called out on numerous occasions to “M’s” homes, observing:

“I saw bedding soaked in urine, there was cat s**t on the pillows. It was unfit to live in with absolute filth everywhere. There were times when we’d arrive and she (“M”) was intoxicated, leaving her oldest boy to play mummy.”

It could also be argued that caring for four children, one of whom was an infant, could make it intolerably hard for a mother to find employment.

 However, “B” claims he paid the required support and above on occasions, and no matter how poor; there is no plausible explanation or excuse for living in filth or for purposeful child neglect.

The police record shows “M” repeatedly called for their intervention. She appears to have used police as a substitute for her inability to apply appropriate discipline, especially targeting her eldest child who was later to tragically suicide.

The record states she told police she wanted to have the boy put in a foster home or juvenile detention. She made formal complaints against him when he was just 11 and 12-years old, resulting in him being arrested and charged with “domestic violence”, “assault and battery” and “count 1 incorrigible.” He was not even a teenager.

Officer, “R” said the recorded incidents, ranged from tantrums, sibling fights, broken toys, and arguments over lost batteries to trying to run away. He said they were all things that should have been managed at home.

He states:

 “There was nothing I could do to help him. If you had seen the way that little boy was lovingly caring for his younger siblings, it would have broken your heart.”

On one telling occasion “M” called the police stating her son was on the roof attempting to commit suicide. When the officer arrived he found the boy distraught. He had been caring for his infant brother, carrying him on his bike without supervision. They took a spill and the toddler fell, hitting his head. “M” had done nothing to address the infant’s injury. She was charged with neglect.

On a similar occasion, the elder boy sustained a traumatic head injury from a bike accident. “M” only took action some hours later after a visiting friend noted him lethargic and insisted he was taken to hospital. He received emergency surgery.

Social services were aware of the family’s problems and dispatched personnel to work with “M” to address concerns.

Despite their intervention, “M” successfully isolated her elder boy from his father and his siblings, insisting to all he was not the biological father. She used this fact as justification for denying the boy access to the father’s home and kept him back when dad attempted to collect all the children for visitation.

Even after overwhelming evidence and damning testimonies from the children, resulted in a new custody ruling in father’s favor, “M” still held onto her first born despite clearly not wanting to care for him herself.

She eventually succeeded in having him sent to juvenile detention center against all advice from police and social workers who spoke up for the boy’s desperate desire to be with his father and his siblings.

After his second spell in “juvie,” “M” eventually signed power of attorney for the boy over to his step-dad at which point he was helped by grandparents and friends to try and bring about a recovery, but these efforts were in vain.

As officer, “R” states:

“I knew when I was visiting him at his mother’s home, he didn’t have a chance. He was not a bad child, he was distraught. All he wanted to do was visit his step-dad and his mother wouldn’t let him. It broke him and he couldn’t be put back together.

It’s the sort of experience that can drive police officers to the brink.”

No matter where the responsibility lies, the loss of a child is devastating to all concerned.

The tragedy is deepened when battles that began in Family Court, do not cease, as in this case, where “M” struggles against all reason to regain custody of her children, by mounting contrived offensives in court, online and wherever she can against her former husband. The plot has become extremely convoluted with action after action, ironically waged by “M” as an alleged victim of violence.

Her former husband and supporters retaliate and engage in an online headlock in a bid to push their version of the truth into the open and force “M” to stop her offensive.

So far, attack has only bred counter-offensive and there is no happy end in sight, much to the distress of the remaining children. The two eldest are now completely estranged from their mother

To date, committing “M” to jail has done nothing to address the real causes of the problem.


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Clare O'Toole

Clare O'Toole is a journalist who has written for several Australian publications, including Times of the West and Freemantle Community Radio.  With an MA in Journalism, O'Toole seeks to uncover injustice in the family courts and what happens when families breakdown. 

Contact Clare O'Toole

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