When parents are divorced, almost invariably the children stay together if there is more than one minor child. In other words, if one parent has custody of one of the children, that parent almost always has custody of all the children. As the Third Court of Appeals wrote in Stoufflet v. Stoufflet, "There is a long line of jurisprudence in Texas that supports keeping siblings together in the same household absent clear and compelling reasons for separating the children." But once in a while, a court will separate siblings.
Stoufflet is one of those cases. The facts of the case are awful. There were three children, a daughter age 15 and two sons, age 12 and 9, as of the date of the court of appeals' decision. The mother said she left the father after she discovered the youngest child viewing sadomasochistic pornography on a laptop the father gave the child. The mother said she found both sadomasochistic pornography, as well as pornography involving bestiality, on the family desktop computer. The father admitted he viewed sadomasochistic pornography but denied viewing pornographic bestiality. He said he had attempted, but failed, to erase the images from the computer memories.
During the weeks and months following the separation, the mother claimed that the children began to recover memories of abuse by the father. This abuse was said to include choking, pushing, hitting and kicking the children; sexually abusing the two boys; physically and sexually abusing family pets in front of the children; drugging and sexually abusing the mother while she was unconscious; and torturing and killing two young boys in front of two older children and their paternal grandmother. The father denied all allegations of abuse.
Although the testimony at trial was conflicting, much of it concerned the mother's state of mind. The court of appeals observed:
The trial court heard evidence that all three children were harmed by their mother's paranoid delusions and by her practice of speaking ill of the father in front of the children. . . . The trial court also heard testimony from [the youngest child's] therapist that [the youngest child] needed to be immediately removed from the continuing allegations that permeated his mother's home.
The court of appeals affirmed the trial court's decision that the father should have custody of the youngest child and the mother custody of the older two children:
Based on the evidence before it, the trial court could have reasonably concluded that [the youngest child] would face future emotional danger if he continued to live with his mother and siblings whereas [the older children] would face future emotional danger if they were removed from their mother's care, and that the only way to serve the best interests of all three children was to separate them. Therefore, we conclude that the trial court could have found clear and compelling reasons to separate the children and we overrule [the mother's] first point of error.
One hopes these children will recover from this ordeal.