Toronto Sun

November 3, 2001

Dads can't win!

Mom tried to hire a hitman; daughter still lives with her

By Heather Bird -- Toronto Sun

Okay, here's a quick test. If a woman is convicted of hiring someone to maim her ex-husband, does that necessarily mean she's a bad mother? And just because she has to do some pesky jail time, should that affect her custody and access?

Answer: Apparently not in Ontario.

Of the scads of frustrated fathers who have e-mailed or phoned in their custody horror stories in the wake of Thursday's column about the Carline Vandenelsen judicial kiss, there is one tale which stands alone.

While most divorces have their fair share of "he said, she said," it's not often the dispute ends up in the criminal courts. Jack Laughtenschlager's case is the exception.

Though she richly deserves it, we won't name his ex-wife here, as their daughter shares her name. There's no reason for the sins of the mother to be visited upon their teenage daughter.

The 51-year-old Kitchener man lived "off and on" with his child's mother until the girl was about two years old. In 1990, after they permanently split, access was always a problem, even though his support payments were up to date. (He admits to an outstanding dispute over a sum with the provincial authorities. He says he's paid in full. They say he still owes 20 bucks.)

At any rate, when the child was about three, the mother became obsessed with the notion that the girl had been sexually abused during an access weekend. She took her to hospital, where an on-call doctor did a physical examination and concluded nothing was amiss. Nonetheless, the case was sent to the local Children's Aid, where a social worker arrived at the same determination. The case ultimately landed in family court, where a London psychologist, Dr. Jack Albin, was appointed to do a custody assessment. The shrink decided (after a one-day investigation involving interviews with only the child and both parents) that daddy did, in fact, do it. As a result, Laughtenschlager was cut back to two hours of supervised access per month. He was never charged criminally and he subsequently challenged Albin's report with a complaint to the College of Psychologists of Ontario.

In the meantime, still not satisfied that her daughter was secure, the mom and a friend set out to hire someone to murder Laughtenschlager. Fortunately for him (and unfortunately for them), they gave a local conman $1,500 to do the dirty deed. He promptly went to the police with the information, hoping to solve some of his own legal problems in exchange for the tip.

The police, in turn, sent in an undercover cop to pose as the hitman and came away with a clean recording of the request. In 1994, both the mother and her friend were sentenced to 15 months in jail after pleading guilty to conspiracy to cause bodily harm. Thinking this was his chance, Laughtenschlager petitioned for custody and was told by the judge that the little girl should stay put with her maternal grandmother because, after all, she was upset since her mom was going to jail.

After many years and much legal wrangling, the College of Psychologists have come to a conclusion in the case of Dr. Albin. According to the agreed statement of facts, Albin admitted to filing a report without conducting a proper investigation. In addition, he didn't interview the other professionals involved in the case, didn't take reasonable measures to check out the facts and didn't even send his conclusion to Laughtenschlager or his lawyer.

The discipline panel issued a reprimand and ordered that a limitation be placed on Dr. Albin's certificate. It says he is "ordered not to conduct custody and access assessments of any nature, and is ordered not to conduct child welfare assessment or treatment work that involves sexual abuse allegations."

It is somewhat of a hollow victory for Laughtenschlager, whose relationship with his daughter has been permanently damaged by the turmoil over the past 10 years. She lives with her mother and still comes to see her dad and his new wife for one weekend a month. But things were never the same.

"All you need is an allegation and they take away your access and you end up visiting in a church basement," he says, although he agrees all abuse allegations have to be investigated.

The cost has been enormous, both emotionally and financially. And he's given up hoping that one day things may turn in his favour.

"What goes around, comes around, doesn't always apply."

Copyright © 2001, Canoe Limited Partnership.