The LA Times just published a pair of articles (first, second) which illustrate with painful clarity how wrong things can go in a custody case.
The articles are long, but worth the read. Just in case you don't have time, I'll do my best to summarize, and add some commentary at the end:
The story is about Louis Gonzalez III, who three years on, has established that he was trying to do nothing but be a good father whenever the court would let him. His ex-girlfriend Tracy West had taken their son from Nevada, where Louis lived, and moved to California. One weekend, when he was in California to see his son's new school and spend the weekend with him, Tracy accused him of a brutal kidnapping, assault, and rape. She had clearly been the victim. Louis was arrested.
He was held for over a month in the Ventura County jail before his alibi could be fully corroborated. Police officers concluded he did not have the time or equipment to commit the crimes she accused him of. His only snippets of unaccounted-for time were small - six minutes here, five minutes there. He could not have done it. He was released. His record was expunged. He eventually received a declaration of factual innocence from the court, which is a very rare thing; it doesn't say "we didn't have enough evidence to convict you," it says "you didn't do it."
That wasn't the end of it though. Louis was still fighting for custody, which had been severely limited or cut off completely due to the criminal charges. Eventually, after further investigation into Tracy's psychiatric condition, Louis was granted custody, but Tracy retains visitation rights. She moved back to Nevada to be closer to her son.
So far, Tracy's only punishment for fabricating the accusations against Louis was a court order to reimburse Louis for $55,000 worth of attorneys fees spent in the custody battle. No telling how much more than that he actually paid during the criminal trial and ongoing custody hearings. Shortly after the order, she filed for bankruptcy; it's unlikely he'll ever see a penny.
Something has gone horribly wrong here. Actually, many things have gone horribly wrong.
First, there is nothing that can be done to compensate Louis Gonzalez for his time in jail, the time he lost with his son, and the lingering damage to his reputation. He can be compensated monetarily, but Tracy West probably will not be the source of much recovery.
Second, what has this world come to, that we resort to accusations of serious criminal behavior - crimes potentially carrying five (five!) back-to-back life sentences - before we can work out a reasonable agreement with someone?
Third, obviously we have to be careful where sexual violence is concerned. The police were right to get Louis off the street right away. If he really had done such a horrible thing, jail was where he needed to be. And to his credit, Louis does not fault the police department for his detainment. They were just doing their job, and eventually the lead detective concluded that Louis did not do what Tracy accused him of. He refused to testify against Louis in court.
However, when it is as clear as it is in this case that the complaining victim not only lied, but either brutalized herself or had someone else participate, filed a false police report, cost the county and the court system untold numbers of dollars, withheld visitation time with a child, and nearly destroyed someone's life, she deserves to be punished.
Exactly how or what the proper punishment is? I have no idea. But the idea that someone can game the system like this merely for personal gain and suffer nothing but self-inflicted wounds is revolting.
Louis filed a civil suit against Tracy and her then- (still-?) husband Timothy Geiges for malicious prosecution, although it appears from the very limited docket notes on the Ventura County Superior Court website that nothing came of it. Perhaps they reached a confidential settlement.
Even Tracy's lawyers don't like her. An article in the Ventura County Star cites a motion filed by one of her attorneys who withdrew from representation, stating that "Ms. West insists upon taking actions that [her attorney] considers repugnant and with which there exists a fundamental disagreement between Ms. West and [her attorney]."