Entries in Custody (4)


Spouses Use Spy Tools to Get Custody of Children

MAGAN CRANE/AFP/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- The spy shop has become a new tool in the arsenal for feuding couples calling it quits in America. From phone tracking and GPS, to hidden cameras and microphones, America’s divorce lawyers have seen technology play a prominent role in their cases.

More than 80 percent of the nation’s top divorce attorneys say they’ve seen an increase in the role electronic data and social networking sites play in divorces, according to the American Association of Matrimonial Lawyers.

One of the primary reasons is that do-it-yourself snooping has become relatively cheap and easy. Surveillance equipment can cost less than $300. It is simple to mount a microphone in a child’s blue jeans, as one Texas mother did, or hide a camera in a child’s favorite doll.

“The one thing that’s exchanged between the warring parties is the child,” said attorney John Kinney. “So, the child becomes, in effect, some sort of Trojan horse.”

Duke Lewton has been on the other end of those devices in a vicious battle over his seven-year-old daughter, whose mother rigged her teddy bear with a microphone and told her to carry it at all times.

“[She] removed a few stitches, placed a recording device inside of the little bear’s head and then you could access a USB port on the side of the head...and download all of our conversations that we had had through the weekend,” Lewton told ABC News.

Lewton’s wife was fined $10,000 for violating wiretapping laws and the tapes were thrown out of court. But the law is murky; in 38 states it’s legal to secretly record in a public place. Federal wiretapping laws protect the privacy of your cellphone conversation and your computer, but sometimes judges allow it anyway.

Leah Wagner lost custody of all five of her children after her spouse recorded her every move. Wagner’s husband used at least seven hidden tape recorders in her car and house, including one in a bookcase.

He wanted her to lose her temper and purposefully picked fights, trying to irritate Wagner because he knew the outbursts would be recorded.

“I put on some colorful little tantrums in response to his provoking me,” she told ABC News. “I had no idea I was being set up.”

The setups make modern divorce technologically treacherous, damaging already frayed feelings whether or not they are admissible in court.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Biological Mom Kept from Child in Florida Lesbian Legal Case

Brand X Pictures/Thinkstock(ORLANDO, Fla.) -- Tina's biological daughter turned 8 this week, but she has not seen the girl since Dec. 22, 2008 because of a custody fight with her former lesbian partner.  The partner is unrelated to the child, but gave birth to her.

"I thought I'd have her back on her birthday," said Tina, a law enforcement officer, whose name was never on the birth certificate and who has been denied parenting rights under Florida state law.

For 11 years, the Brevard County couple forged a committed relationship, living together, sharing their finances and raising a daughter.  Tina's egg was fertilized with donor sperm and implanted in her partner's womb.

But when their romance fell apart when the child was 2, the Florida courts had to decide, who is the legal parent, the biological mother or the birth mother who carried the unrelated child for nine months in her womb?

A trial court summarily sided with Tina's ex-partner, citing Florida statute. "The judge said, 'It breaks my heart, but this is the law,'" according to the birth mother's lawyer, Robert J. Wheelock of Orlando.

But on Dec. 23, a state appeals court rejected the law as antiquated and recognized both women as legal parents.  Citing the case as "unique," the 5th District Court of Appeal ruled that both the U.S. and Florida constitutions trump Florida's law, according to the Orlando Sentinel, which first reported the story.

"I am elated and I am thankful," said Tina, now 41. "I am hoping things will run smoothly from this [point] forward, but it may not be the case.  She is appealing and trying to keep me away from my daughter."

Court papers identify both women only by their initials.  ABC News is withholding Tina's last name to protect her privacy.

Wheelock has asked for a stay of Tina's rights and said the case will surely go to the Florida Supreme Court and, he hopes, all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

He would give no personal details about the birth mother, including where she is living with the child.  He said she could not be available to talk to ABC News on "such short notice."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Mother Loses Custody of Infant over Poppy Seeds?

Zedcor Wholly Owned/Thinkstock(NEW CASTLE, Pa.) -- Eileen Bower of Pennsylvania is suing the Lawrence County Department of Children and Youth Services for taking custody of her newborn son after she tested positive for opiates, a result -- her lawyer says -- of her eating poppy seeds.

Stanley T. Booker, Bower's attorney, told ABC News that Bower gave birth to her son on July 13, 2009.  A routine blood test performed by Jameson Hospital uncovered the presence of opiates in her system.

"They contacted Lawrence County Children and Youth Services and got a court order to take custody of her child on July 15," Booker said.  Bower regained custody of her child 75 days later.

But before giving birth, Bower ate a salad with dressing that contained poppy seeds, which Booker believes led to the positive test result.

"There were only trace amounts of opiates -- they couldn't even put a range on the amount," Booker explained.

After the initial blood test, the hospital sent the blood to an outside laboratory to confirm the result, which came back the same.

"But even before the confirmatory test results, they contacted CYS and there was an order to take custody," Booker said.

Neither Jameson Hospital nor the Department of Children and Youth Services returned phone calls from ABC News, but according to the American Civil Liberties Union's web site, the hospital's policy is to perform drug tests on all new mothers and submit positive results to the Department of Children and Youth Services.

Both Jameson Hospital and the county's child protection agency are involved in a nearly identical case involving another woman whose child was taken as a result of a positive drug test.  Elizabeth Mort said she ate an everything bagel with poppy seeds on it shortly before she gave birth to her daughter.  She filed her lawsuit last October.

Toxicologists said that if trace amounts of opiates were found in Bower's blood, they didn't necessarily come from poppy seeds.

"It depends on the nature of the hospital's test, but when it comes to poppy seeds, you would have to eat a lot more than salad dressing to get a positive presumptive test," said Chip Walls, director of the Forensic Toxicology Laboratory at the University of Miami's Miller School of Medicine.

"A positive blood test is more than likely not from consuming poppy seeds, but it's not out of the question," said Bruce Goldberger, director of toxicology at the University of Florida College of Medicine in Gainesville.

Both experts emphasized that it didn't mean there was an illegal drug present, either.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Judge Cites Mom's Breast Cancer in Denying Custody of Children

Comstock/Thinkstock (DURHAM, N.C.) -- In a bitter child custody battle, Alaina Giordano's terminal breast cancer has been a strike against her in court. A North Carolina judge denied Giordano primary custody of her two children in part because "the course of her disease is unknown" and "children who have a parent with cancer need more contact with the non-ill parent."

Giordano's unemployment was also cited as a factor in the April 25 District Court ruling that her two children must move from their home in Durham, N.C., to live primarily with their father, Kane Snyder, in Chicago as of June 17.

Giordano and Snyder will share custody of Bud, 5, and Sofia, 11, but if Giordano continues to live in Durham, where she is treated by a team of doctors at Duke Cancer Institute, her custody will be limited to holiday and weekend visitation, the airfare for which, she says she cannot afford.

Giordano has stage 4 breast cancer. Though it has metastasized to her bones, she receives monthly treatment and her medical records list her cancer as stable and not progressing. "I'm fully functional and my kids are thriving here in Durham," she says.

In accordance with the Uniform and Marriage and Divorce Act, it is not uncommon for family court to take into account the health, both physical and mental, of a parent in making custody decisions.

And as with most custody battles, Giordano and Snyder's case is a complicated one, complete with restraining orders, mental health concerns, and allegations of cheating and domestic violence. Giordano's cancer was certainly not the only factor at play in the court's decision.

However, the determination that it may be in Sofia and Bud's best interest to have limited contact with their mother merely because she is ill has some cancer and legal experts concerned.

In her ruling, Judge Nancy Gordon cited forensic psychologist Dr. Helen Brantley: "The more contact [the children] have with the non-ill parent, the better they do. They divide their world into the cancer world and a free of cancer world. Children want a normal childhood, and it is not normal with an ill parent."

Giordano hopes to appeal the court's ruling so that she and her children can stay in North Carolina. Calls made to Kane Snyder and Judge Nancy Gordon were not returned.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio