Ex-Playboy Model's Tearful Custody Battle

ByABC News

July 1, 2004 -- There's no questioning the love between former Playboy model Bridget Marks and her twin daughters, Amber and Scarlet.

Up until this summer, the girls had never been away from her for more than a week. The only home they had known was the one they shared with their mother.

But on June 1, the 4-year-old girls left Marks. Their father, millionaire John Aylsworth, had won a custody battle for them. The children are the result of Marks' affair several years earlier with the 54-year-old casino executive.

Manhattan Family Court Judge Arlene Goldberg had ordered Marks, 38, to hand over full custody of her daughters to Aylsworth, ruling that it would be "in the best interest of the children."

It was a controversial decision. Marks lives in New York, and the case of Aylsworth v. Marks was big news. Not everyone agreed with the decision.

In fact, perhaps the only thing everyone can agree on is that there is nothing simple about this story — and that there is nothing ordinary about the woman in the center of it all.

Double Threat

Marks graduated from Smith College when she was just 19. Two years later, she earned a master's degree in international relations from New York University.

At the same time, she dabbled in acting, appearing in small films like Deadly Outbreak. She got into Playboy when a friend told her the men's magazine was doing a spread on debutantes in New York.

"It was really fun," she told Primetime's Cynthia McFadden. "At that point in my life I thought it was freedom of expression."

She lived a high life in New York. In 1998, she met Aylsworth, who seemed to have it all: money, good looks, and a beautiful home on the California coast.

But he had also been married for more then two decades. Marks said he didn't tell her he was married until later in their relationship. "He doesn't wear a wedding ring," she said.

A few months into her affair with him, Marks discovered she was pregnant. She denies it was an attempt to trap him. She said Aylsworth was thrilled about the pregnancy — until he told his wife.

Marks said Aylsworth and his wife called her repeatedly. When she was almost five months pregnant, they "wanted me to get a partial-birth late-term abortion," Marks said. Marks said she never considered abortion.

Strange Footing

In September 1999, the twins were born. But Aylsworth wasn't there. He came to the hospital the day after, accompanied to his wife.

Aylsworth declined Primetime's repeated requests for an interview. But he claims in court papers and through his lawyer that from the beginning he was a loving and caring father, that he took a paternity test within weeks of the twins' birth, and that his name is on their birth certificates.

Marks says she continued her relationship with Aylsworth, and that they planned a life together. But she says she soon realized he wasn't really interested in the children.

He came by the apartment "every six or eight weeks," she said. "It really varied. He was mostly coming around to see me."

Far from being an uninterested parent, Aylsworth says he went out of his way to see and care for the twins. For example, he says he flew to New York more than 70 times to see them, and voluntarily paid $6,000 a month to support the girls.

In 2002, the affair ended. Marks and Aylsworth each claim they were the one to break it off.

Dueling Actions

Aylsworth has said in court documents that when he told Marks he was going to stay with his wife, she cut off his visits with the children, forcing him to go to court to get visitation rights.

Marks says she never tried to stop him from seeing the girls. "He is their father. And I expect the children to love him, of course," she told Primetime.

But Marks also says she thought Aylsworth was rough with the children and had kissed them inappropriately, so she asked the court to order a supervisor be present for all his visits.

Aylsworth responded by raising his demand from visitation rights to full custody of the twins.

Later, Marks said one of her daughters told her Aylsworth had touched her genitals during a trip to the bathroom.

Marks had her daughters examined, and it turned out they both had mild vaginitis, a swelling and redness that experts say can be caused by many things — from inappropriate sexual contact to innocent bubble baths.

She also took them to see child psychiatrist Celia Blumenthal, who said she "60 to 70 percent" thought the girls had been molested.

Rock and a Hard Place

However, the police investigated and determined there wasn't enough evidence to press charges.

A forensic psychologist and social worker, both appointed by the family court judge, testified that they believed Marks coached the girls to say their father had touched them inappropriately.

Marks defended herself to Primetime: "If I don't report it, I'm neglectful and I should lose my children. And if I do report it, I'm a coaching brainwasher."

The court heard from 32 witnesses during 14 days of hearings. While there was no testimony that Marks had ever physically abused or neglected the girls, several experts testified that Marks was "unable to foster a positive relationship" between the twins and their father. One said she even put the girls in "psychiatric distress" around visits with Aylsworth.

Judge Goldberg decided the girls would no longer live with their mother, and gave their father full custody.

"The mother's failings … her unbridled anger towards the father and inability to foster the paternal relationship make her ill-suited to be the custodial parent of the children," Goldberg's opinion read.

Best Interests

But Marks was not about to give up without a fight. Up until the day Aylsworth was scheduled to pick up the twins, she sought a temporary stay.

She asserted that the court-appointed forensic expert was not impartial, noting his own brother had been involved in a painful custody battle and that he had not talked to anyone on her side of the family. But she conceded he had a lengthy interview with her.

The temporary stay never came. Instead, Aylsworth showed up at Marks' apartment building, accompanied by a social worker.

In front of the media gathered outside her door, Marks shouted at Aylsworth and the social worker to stop pulling the girls along. She complained that the girls' car seats weren't fastened. She threatened the social worker with a lawsuit.

She told a reporter she was going to "fight like a warrior for my daughters," to get them back from "these animals." And when Aylsworth's car finally pulled away with her daughters inside, Marks chased the car, yelling, "I love you."

Aylsworth's lawyers say Marks' behavior that day is evidence she doesn't have the best interest of the children at heart.

But Marks called the lawyers "inhuman and wrong. When mothers lose their children, they scream."

‘We Have Been Ripped Apart’

Critics say Marks should have been more reassuring, and her behavior probably increased the twin's pain and fear.

"It's not something I can go back and change," Marks told McFadden. Nor does she regret acting in such a way. It would be denying her emotions, she said.

"If I had gone down there and just given them away, what would they think? No. We love each other and we have been ripped apart and that's our pain."

On Wednesday, Aylsworth wrote Primetime through his lawyer, saying he loves the twins very much and wants them to have a healthy relationship with their mother.

Today, exactly a month after Marks handed over her girls, they were reunited — for a one-week visit with mandatory 24-hour supervision.

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