Australian judge writes unusual letter to two children involved in custody battle

MELBOURNE, Australia -- An Australian judge took the extraordinary step of writing to two children involved in a custody dispute, explaining why he gave sole custody to their mom even though he does not accept her claims that their dad abused them.

Australian Federal Magistrate Tom Altobelli published his decision on the court's website, ordering the boy, 11, and his sister, 6, to live with their mom, and the dad's contact to be restricted to letters and birthday cards.

The judge's letter, which is to be opened once the children turn 14, is a plea that the children renew contact with the father, explaining that their mother's claims he abused them are false.

"At the time I had to decide the case your mom believed in her heart that your dad hurt you," he has written.

"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," Altobelli wrote.

"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," he added.

"I knew your mom would look after you really well. I decided not to make your mom 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."

The mother, in her 30s, and father, in his 40s, began their relationship in 2001 before separating in 2009 after what the court described as an unhappy relationship.

The mother became convinced the father had sexually abused their daughter, a view she reached after her own mother had seen a clairvoyant who had predicted the abuse.

The mother was given sole custody because the court ruled she was the better parent.

"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,"Altobelli wrote.

Slater & Gordon lawyer Steven Edward said it was the first time in 25 years in family law he had seen a magistrate write a personal letter to children involved in custody case.

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