Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

A child-custody catastrophe

Falsely accusing ex-husband of abusing children now haunts mother

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A Winnipeg mother has permanently lost custody of her three children after admitting she falsely accused her ex-husband of sexually abusing them.

The woman appeared before the Manitoba Court of Appeal last month begging for a second chance, apologizing for the bogus claims and saying she was "at most, guilty of caring too much."

But the high court slammed the door shut in a decision released this week, upholding a family court judge's decision to award sole custody to her estranged spouse. The woman will continue to be allowed supervised access.

"She argues... specifically that she falsely accused the father of sexual abuse of the children of the marriage and tried to alienate them from him... that she has been 'punished long enough,' " Justice Freda Steel wrote in the Appeal Court. "She submits the conditions placed on her ability to see her children as harsh, punitive and contrary to the best interests of her children."

The case began shortly after the couple separated in 2003 following eight years of marriage. They initially agreed to joint custody of their three young boys, but their arrangement quickly imploded and the courts were brought in to mediate.

It was in 2006 when the woman first accused the man of molesting the children. The bombshell claim led to several months of Child and Family Services and police investigation which greatly disrupted the father's life, the Appeal Court wrote this week.

Eventually, the abuse was ruled out and the woman eventually admitted she had made it up in an attempt to discredit her ex and gain sole custody. She was never charged for the malicious allegations, although they have come back to haunt her in the child-custody dispute. The woman has twice been found in contempt of court for failing to abide by previous legal rulings in the case. She is on the hook for more than $10,000 of her ex-husband's legal costs.

A Winnipeg psychiatrist who did a court-ordered family assessment as part of the ongoing legal dispute predicted this case wasn't going to have a happy ending for all parties.

"The parents are incapable of negotiation, co-operating or conversing in an open, civil manner on any subject. As such, they are completely incapable of collaborative parenting of any kind," the doctor wrote.

This followed an earlier report from a couples' therapist who predicted back in 2002 -- months before they formally separated -- that big trouble was looming.

"They will spend 10 years and all their money on litigation because of their inability to agree on anything," the therapist said in a report referenced by the Appeal Court this week.

Steel, writing on behalf of the three justices who decided the case, said that's exactly what has happened.

"This is a high-conflict domestic dispute which has been ongoing for 10 years and which has resulted in thousands of dollars of legal fees to both parents, emotional anguish to the entire family and continuing litigation," said Steel. "It is the kind of domestic dispute which is particularly ill-suited to the blunt blows of the legal system, despite the best intentions of all involved."

Both parents can no longer afford lawyers and have been self-represented for the past several years, court was told.

Another court-ordered report has found the three boys to be "happy and adapting well to life with their father." Unfortunately, the author also concluded the mother continues to be "inappropriate with the boys during her visits" in terms of trying to turn them against their father. This is why all visits must now be supervised, the Appeal Court ruled.

The mother has also been ordered to undergo a psychiatric assessment because of concern she may have a "delusional belief system or some other mental-health issue." To date, she has refused to comply on the grounds she can't find a psychiatrist willing to work with her.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 26, 2013 B1

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