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Woman reunited with her three sons

Magistrate revokes order in latest custody saga

Sunday, May 25, 2014    

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A woman who was prevented from spending Mother's Day with her children after a resident magistrate granted an interim ex parte protection order barring her from any form of communication with them, was reunited with her three sons last Tuesday.

The protection order which was issued against Marie Berbick-Graham was revoked by the same judge who granted it, one day after the Sunday Observer highlighted the mother's story.

According to the terms of the order which was signed by Resident Magistrate Annemarie Nembhard on April 25 and then extended on April 30, the mother faced the possibility of being imprisoned or fined if she entered her matrimonial home, entered her children's school or made contact with them prior to May 21, although she was granted interim custody of them in 2011 by a judge, until a trial could be held to determine custody.

Contact was made between Berbick-Graham's attorneys and the resident magistrate last Friday, and during a two-party hearing in the Linstead Resident Magistrate's Court in St Catherine the following Monday, the judge ruled that the mother should regain interim custody of her children, while residential access be granted to her estranged husband on alternate weekends.

Berbick-Graham's attorney Ingrid Clarke Bennett told the Jamaica Observer that it was revealed during the hearing that the judge was not aware that a motion brought against her client to have the children removed from her care based on claims of abuse in the St Catherine Children's Court had been thrown out on April 7, 2014. This was after on extensive investigation carried out by the Child Development Agency (CDA) exonerated the mother of these allegations.

"We applied to set aside the order that had been made for the father to have interim custody and in fairness to the court, there was information that was not brought before the court, which is why the court, I believe, had made the order. This information had been kept from the court and that information was pivotal. It was very important," Clarke Bennett said.

"She as a judge had to be concerned if someone comes and makes allegations of children being abused and when the other party is not given a chance to respond, that's all the judge has. That is why she would have given that order. She was not aware of the history that was going on, before the matter was brought to her attention," the attorney said.

Even so, she believes more needs to be done to prevent persons from filing false allegations.

"We have to really be on our guard and look more deeply into allegations. I don't know what can be done, but something will have to be done to rectify the situation where I can just get up and say anything. A child is being beaten, and there is no evidence of that and it is being protracted over a period of time and is being investigated for so long and then it's in court and there are chances of the child being taken away and put in state care, which every parent dreads if you are a real parent," the attorney said.

Berbick-Graham was interviewed on several occasions by the CDA after it was alleged that she had been abusive to her children. The mother said that the allegations started after she and her husband started divorce proceedings in 2010. Custody of their three children will need to be determined before a divorce can be granted, but since that time, the mother said that she has appeared in four separate courts and has racked up legal bills mounting to over $3 million.

The matter will again come up for mention in the Linstead Magistrate's Court some time in July, and the trial will be held later to determine custody.

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