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Accusations fly in celebrity child custody battle

Allegations of abuse and neglect are not uncommon in bitter child custody disputes, but they have become rarer as co-parenting solutions have become more popular. However, celebrity divorce cases often buck this trend, and gossip columnists were given plenty to write about when Robin Thicke and his former wife Paula Patton appeared in a Los Angeles courtroom on Jan. 26 to fight for custody of their 6-year-old son.

Thicke had asked for temporary sole custody of the boy, but the court denied his request and issued a restraining order against the 39-year-old record producer instead. The order prevents Thicke from approaching the boy or his 41-year-old former wife. Both Patton and a teacher at the boy's school had raised questions about the way Thicke disciplined his son. The boy is said to have told his mother and teachers that he was afraid of his father and feared going home because of his harsh spankings.

Thicke denies the allegations and claims that the California Department of Children and Family Services has investigated Patton for emotional abuse. Thicke's attorneys did not bring up that matter, but they did say that the agency had investigated the spanking claims made against their client and found them to be less than convincing.

Protracted child custody battles can cause great emotional damage to children, and accusations made in open court can leave the reputations of divorcing parents permanently tarnished. Experienced family law attorneys may urge their clients to avoid such disputes by focusing on the needs of their children. When traditional negotiating is unproductive, attorneys could suggest a more cooperative approach. Divorce mediation encourages spouses to put their hostilities aside and find common ground, and it may help them to reach an amicable settlement even in situations where such an outcome seems unlikely.

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