Canada.com

Supreme Court rules against ex-NBA star Blue Edwards in custody battle

Canadian Press
Friday, September 28, 2001
Canada.com

(CP/Fred Chartrand)
Former NBA star Blue Edwards talks to reporters outside the Supreme Court of Canada in Ottawa in June. (CP/Fred Chartrand)
OTTAWA (CP) - The woman who won custody of her son after a bitter fight with ex-NBA star Theodore (Blue) Edwards says the victory is muted by her little boy's suffering. "It doesn't feel right for me to celebrate what just should have been all along," Kimberly Van de Perre said Friday as the four-year custody feud ended.

Four-year-old Elijah, along with a chaperone, has jetted between Van de Perre's home near Vancouver and his dad's in North Carolina every three weeks for more than a year.

"He hasn't had a consistent home and he's had to really grow up" as an often ugly dispute played out, Van de Perre said.

"He lost a little bit of his childhood in this process."

The Supreme Court of Canada ruled 9-0 Friday that a British Columbia Court of Appeal judgment last year awarding joint custody to Edwards and his wife should be overturned.

Edwards will have access to his son under an agreement still to be worked out.

"I think it's important he spend time with his dad, just on a less frequent basis," said Van de Perre, who cried with joy and relief when she learned of the decision.

Edwards and his lawyer, Ean Maxwell, were not immediately available for comment.

The Supreme Court upheld the decision of the trial judge, Justice Terrance Warren, who awarded custody to Van de Perre after a 26-day hearing.

The appeal court was wrong to interfere, said the top judges.

"This was an opportunity for the Supreme Court to state in very strong reasons that it's only in the narrowest of circumstances that appeal courts should intervene in custody cases," said Steven Mansfield, Van de Perre's lawyer.

"This means an end to an awful, awful aspect of (Elijah's) life."

The high court also dismissed the appeal court's contentious suggestion that Elijah, the son of a black father and white mother, would be best raised by the Edwards family in North Carolina where he could better learn to handle discrimination.

"In this case, there was absolutely no evidence adduced (at trial) which indicates that race was an important consideration," wrote Justice Michel Bastarache on behalf of the Supreme Court.

"Notwithstanding the role that race may play in custody determinations, it appears that the trial judge noted that this issue was not determinative and that . . . Elijah would be in a more stable and loving environment" with his mother, says the ruling.

The race issue "was given disproportionate emphasis (by) . . . the Court of Appeal."

Emily Carasco, a family law specialist at University of Windsor, says it's significant that the high court acknowledged race as one among several factors to be weighed during custody trials.

"It has not been raised that often by anybody, in part because it's always been a very sensitive issue in our society."

Edwards, 35, met Van de Perre, 27, five years ago in Vancouver's sexually charged sports-bar scene. He was a married father playing for the Vancouver Grizzlies basketball team, and she was a beauty with a penchant for professional athletes. They began an 18-month affair that produced their son.

The battle for custody started when Elijah was three months old.

Van de Perre, a high school dropout, is a hotel receptionist who collects $3,500 a month in child support.

Edwards earned millions of dollars playing professional basketball in North America and Europe, and has some university education. He retired last spring.

Edwards has accused Van de Perre of being a racist who bore their child for financial gain - charges she vehemently denies.

In awarding custody to Edwards and his wife, the appeal court said the trial judge unfairly focused on Edwards' extra-marital affairs and not enough on his superior family situation, including a devoted wife and twin daughters, now 11.

The appeal court also suggested the trial judge glossed over Van de Perre's earlier promiscuity and her comparative lack of education.

But the high court, as it has before, urged deference to trial judges who hear all the evidence and assess the parties up close.

"An appellate court may only intervene in the decision of a trial judge if he or she erred in law or made a material error (of fact)," wrote Bastarache.

He also stressed the importance of finality in custodial cases.

"A child should not be unsure of his or her home for four years, as in this case."

Elijah had made the seven-hour trip between Vancouver and Charlotte, N.C., every two weeks until developing inner-ear problems from frequent flying.

Friday's judgment means more stability for her son, but Van de Perre fears a child-support challenge could land her back in court.

"It probably will, but that's not important. As long as he's here with me, I can work out the rest."

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