A Federal magistrate has written to two children involved in a custody battle and asked them to get in touch with their father, whom he denied custody.
Magistrate Tom Altobelli told the children, aged 11 and six, why the decision he made had affected him so much. He said even though the mother involved in the case suggested the father abused the children, he did not believe her.
The children, he said, should be allowed to read the letter when they turn 14.
“DEAR X and Y, AFTER your mum and dad separated they could not agree about where you were to live. You were 10 and 6 at the time.
As a judge it was my job to make this decision. I had a lot of help from the lawyer who was representing you, and each of your parents, as well as an expert child psychiatrist.
Even with all of this help it was a hard, sad case to decide. This letter is to try to explain my decision to you, even though you probably won’t read it for many years.
The most important thing I want to tell you is that both your mum and dad love you very much.
They loved you from the day you were born, love you now, and will love you for the rest of their lives. Just because your dad may not have been around for a while, it does not change that he loves you.
At the time I had to decide the case your mum believed in her heart that your dad hurt you.
My job is to look at all the information, and listen very carefully to what everybody says including the experts.
I decided that you had not been hurt by your dad. Even after I told your mum what I decided, I think she still believed in her heart that your dad had hurt you.
This just goes to show that sometimes words do not change a person’s heart.
At the time of the case both of you were saying things, and doing things, that told me you did not like your dad, and did not want to spend time with him.
I don’t think you really meant this. I think maybe you were picking up the things that mum was worried about.
I listened to what you were saying, but in the end the hard decision I had to make was not because of what you were saying or doing.
I told you this was a hard, sad case to decide.
I decided that even though your dad really wanted you to live with him, it was best that you lived with mum, even though this might mean moving away from where you lived at the time.
I knew your mum would look after you really well. I decided not to make your mum let you see your dad, even though your dad wanted this very much. I thought it would make things harder for you if I had done this.
By the time you read this letter I think you will be old enough to make up your own mind. I hope you will think about contacting your dad and getting to know him again.
There are people called counsellors who can help you with how you feel about this, and help you to make it happen.
Please remember that both your mum and dad love you very much, even if they love you in different ways.”
Not speaking directly to the children, Mr Altobelli went on to explain his reasons further:
“Despite the mother’s grossly distorted lens through which she views the father and the events that bring this matter to court, she is a more than adequate parent,” he said.
“Indeed that parenting capacity will most likely increase with relocation. Despite the father’s good intentions, optimism and courageous position in this case, I am far less satisfied about his capacity to parent these children on the facts of this case.”
It’s an extraordinary step for a judge to take, do you think he did the right thing?