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Mel & Oksana: Their Baby Battle

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This past Father’s Day, the man who jokingly dubbed himself Octo-Mel had planned to celebrate with all eight of his children at his Malibu home. But there was a conspicuous no-show. Sources close to the star say Lucia-his 8-month-old daughter with ex-girlfriend Oksana Grigorieva-was kept away from him by her mother, who took her to a church in Los Angeles instead. Gibson, 54, “was as frustrated as any father would be,” says a pal. “He was with all his kids, and the one person missing was Lucia. Everything changed for him that day.”

To put it mildly, the incident has turned a publicly civil separation into a breakup Thunderdome. Now Grigorieva, 40, a Russian-born musician whose relationship with Gibson ended around March, is claiming he punched her in the face more than once last January, breaking a tooth, knocking out a veneer and giving her a concussion-all of which he denies. On June 21 she filed a restraining order against Gibson detailing the alleged abuse; a source says she has photos and dental records to support those claims. “He’s playing dirty,” she told on June 25. “The truth will come out.”

But sources close to Gibson-who has filed his own restraining order preventing her from talking about parts of the case-say it is Grigorieva who is taking the low road, using Lucia to squeeze him for money. According to a Gibson source, the actor intended to file a complaint claiming Grigorieva violated their custody arrangement by keeping Lucia on Father’s Day, but she preempted him by getting her restraining order. “Oksana is not putting the interest of their daughter first,” says a friend. “She knows exactly which buttons to push with Mel.”

Gibson met Grigorieva after she signed with his production company; they emerged as a couple not long after Gibson’s wife of nearly 30 years, Robyn, 54, filed for divorce last April. Their relationship was “very dramatic,” says a Gibson family source. “Mel likes his freedom, and Oksana is very controlling.” Since the breakup, “they haven’t at all been getting along. Oksana is furious.”

Much of the dispute centers on money. Gibson, once worth an estimated $900 million, previously worked out an agreement with Grigorieva that called for “very generous support payments” and joint custody, says Gibson’s attorney Stephen Kolodny. (Gibson also owns the four-bedroom Sherman Oaks, Calif., home where Grigorieva lives with Lucia.) Now Grigorieva claims Gibson has cut her off. “He is not paying me a penny-nothing,” she told London’s Mail on Sunday. But the Gibson family source says Grigorieva is upset because “she wanted more money. She’s been using Lucia against Mel to get what she wants.”

What about her charge that Gibson hit her? Both sides agree the pair argued in January, but a source says Gibson only “tried to stop [Oksana] from shaking the baby” during the fight-and that they continued to be a couple afterward.

Gibson and Grigorieva are due in court July 20; until then they must continue to share custody of their daughter, however uneasily. “The saddest part about this drama,” says the Gibson family source, “is that baby Lucia will suffer.”