Exclusive: International Custody Battle Rages Into 10th Year

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

ByABC News via logo
April 26, 2010, 6:43 PM

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.