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A Serra Mesa father has won a long, bitter custody battle over his son. He claimed his ex-wife had been raising their five-year-old son inside a notorious sex cult. Today, the judge issued his final ruling in the high-profile case.
Most custody battles don't get the kind of media attention this case did. But then again, most parents don't raise their children inside a notorious religious sect where members live in communes and preach open sexuality.
According to court records, 30-year-old Angie Staughton is a member of that group, which calls itself "The Family." Mant former members call it a sex cult.
Angie's ex-husband, 33-year-old Paul Staughton, is a former member of The Family, who moved out of the Escondido commune three years ago.
"It's just a big commune of people living together, and there's almost zero interaction with the outside world," Paul Staughton said.
When he left, Paul wanted to take his son with him out of that sexually charged environment that he believed put his son at risk. And so began the long custody battle over the now five-year-old boy, Paul wanting his son to go to public school, Angie wanting to home school her son inside the commune.
Over the past year, the judge has ordered inspections of the commune and psychological reports on the child. He wanted to know if the boy was being sexually abused.
Many former members say the free love philosophy of The Family led to widespread sexual abuse of children during the 1970s and 80s, an accusation The Family denies.
Paul's attorney says he has concerns about the kids being raised in the communes today.
"The problem is, the children are smart. They see things, things they shouldn't be exposed to, and it can have a profound effect upon their life," Paul Staughton's attorney Robert Baumer said.
The Family has close ties to two local charities - a Christian publishing company called Activated Ministries in Escondido, and The Family Care Foundation in Dulzura. Members live in communes like the one on Calmin Drive in Fallbrook, and the one in Escondido on Alps Way.
"You have a five-year-old child in a commune where everyone is 28 to 30 years old, so this child has no peers to learn behavior from," Baumer said.
Angie Staughton and her attorney declined to be interviewed, but the final court order speaks for itself. After a year-long custody battle, the judge accepted a signed stipulation from both parties and gave sole legal custody to the boy's father.
"I'm really happy that he's now in my custody," Paul Staughton said.
Paul will put his son in a public school, and the boy won't be living in a commune anymore.
"It's been a long fight, and it's been hard," Paul said. "And I'm glad it's coming to an end now."
The mother recently moved out of the commune too, and relocated to Poway. She'll get visitation with her son two weekends a month, and one day a week.
Most of the people who were living in that Escondido commune have since relocated to a home near Rosarito Beach, Mexico.
The five-year-old boy is now doing well in kindergarten, and the father says his son is getting good grades.