Exclusive: International Custody Battle Rages Into 10th Year

Family torn between Argentina and the U.S. takes drastic measures.

April 27, 2010 — -- It's been more than 10 years since their custody battle began, but the extraordinary case of an international he-said, she-said rages to this day.

On one side, an American mother so desperate to protect her sons from an allegedly abusive Argentinean father that she chained them to an Argentine courthouse, protesting a court order to prevent them from returning to the United States.

On the other side, a father who says he has never harmed his children and that they are the victims of a manipulative and scornful ex-wife.

Their trouble started in 1999 when the mother, Cathleen Pizzutello, and the father, Teofilo Mendez-Lynch, ended their 12-year marriage.

"One of the reasons why I decided to separate was the violence from the mother, particularly verbal and aggressive violence that the kids were suffering because all the conflicts," Mendez-Lynch told "Good Morning America."

But Pizzutello said it was Mendez-Lynch who was abusive, prompting her to leave. So in 2000, she left Argentina with the boys, Dylan and Brandon, who were 6 and 4 at the time, while their father was out of the country.

"After years of domestic violence my U.S. pastor helped me to get home to the Florida area and get some help for me and the boys," Pizzutello said.

The boys, born and raised in Argentina, were citizens of that country and still under joint custody. Mendez-Lynch contacted international law enforcement and claimed his children had been kidnapped.

"First we had to find them through Interpol, missing children, the Department of State, everybody was involved," he said.

It took two years to track the boys down. Under the International Treaty for the Protection of Children, part of the Hague Convention, a U.S. court ruled that Pizzutello illegally took them from Argentina.

"She was found guilty in her country and the kids were ordered to give to me," Mendez-Lynch said.

Back in Argentina, the boys lived with their father where he said they were happy.

"I gave them all my love, all my protection," he said. "If you go to the pictures, you'll see happy kids. ... My kids, my kids are very close to me."

But Pizzutello claims Mendez-Lynch began to physically and emotionally abuse the boys.

"It didn't start towards Dylan, [wasn't] really focused on Dylan until 2002," she said.

Mother Takes Drastic Measures

Dylan also said his father turned violent with him.

"I remember talking to my mom on the phone, saying, you know, 'I want to be back in the States' and my dad just coming out and just punching me for saying that," Dylan said.

After that, Pizzutello took the boys back to the States again. After months of floating around shelters, staying with family members and homeschooling the boys, they finally settled in a small rural town in Georgia.

"We had a house, our car, we had a dog, we have all our friends there, my school," Dylan said.

Again, their father found them -- this time after almost three years. And again, the American court sided with him. Pizzutello could not produce any evidence of the boy's abuse. In 2008, the boys were returned to Argentina under a provision of the Hague Convention.

The 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction is a multilateral treaty that "seeks to protect children from the harmful effects of abduction and retention across international boundaries by providing a procedure to bring about their prompt return." Twice U.S. courts found that, according to the Convention, the children must be returned to Argentina.

Father Denies Abuse Allegations

"I looked for them twice after being kidnapped and I brought them back to Argentina just to beat them up?" Mendez-Lynch said.

He denies that he has ever hit his ex-wife or his children and claims Pizzutello has brainwashed the boys against him.

"I know why he [Dylan] has to say these things. I know why he's doing this. It's the mom's influence. Built up in 10 years of emotional kidnapping, threats of her disappearing, killing herself, abandoning the kids..." Mendez-Lynch said.

Mendez-Lynch has never been charged with child abuse, but Dylan said he has proof.

"He broke my finger, he threw me down a staircase, he threw me against a mirror, he threw me against walls," Dylan, who is now 16, said. "I have been hospitalized for abuse from my father. This is something that we have medical reports for."

Mendez-Lynch said the medical reports don't show any evidence of abuse.

"They had this little paper from a doctor ... that said Dylan had a scratch on the arm, which, I saw how he did that scratch," he said. "[I've] never hit the kids, none of these events of violence."

Now it's up to the Argentine coutrs to decide which parent is telling the truth and who will win custody.

One family court ordered a psychological evaluation of Pizzutello and found her to have "psychopathic tendencies." Another, however, granted her custody of the boys in August 2008. They now live with their mother, and their father has barely seen them in the last two years.

The boys can't go back to their home in the United States without their father's consent. At one point, Pizzutello protested by chaining herself and her children up in front of the family courthouse in an effort to get permission to leave.

"This court has taken my childhood and really destroyed it," Dylan said. "This is my childhood. I don't remember a time when this hasn't been an issue in my life. It has taken over and it's all that really matters in my life."

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