By Oliver Jones
October 20, 2008 12:00 PM

One thing was clear: There was something going on with Sharon Stone. As she does almost every year, the actress, 50, emceed an auction hosted by Macy’s for AIDS charities in Santa Monica Sept. 25, but she wasn’t flirting with the guests like she usually did—sitting on their laps or blowing kisses. “She wasn’t her usual gregarious, bubbly self,” says an observer. “She was just a bit off.”

Some people knew why the actress was unusually subdued. Stone had recently lost her bid to change her custody agreement with ex-husband Phil Bronstein so that their 8-year-old son, Roan, could live full-time with her in Los Angeles instead of with his father in the San Francisco area.

But the worst wouldn’t come out until the following week. That’s when court papers surfaced that painted an unflattering portrait of Stone’s parenting and showed just how bitter things have gotten between her and newspaper executive Bronstein, 58. The judge in the custody hearing criticized Stone for overreacting to Roan’s health issues, “refus[ing] to participate in the counseling . . . designed entirely to help her son” and being unwilling to make changes in her lifestyle to accommodate Roan’s needs—even once requesting that a meeting with Roan’s teachers and doctors be taped instead of attending herself.

“It does not help the situation that mother and father clearly are unable to put aside their personal feelings towards each other when they have any interaction,” Judge Anne-Christine Massullo wrote.

Stone and Bronstein’s adoption of Roan in 2000 was the high point of a union that was tough going at times. Three years after their lavish wedding ceremony on Valentine’s Day 1998, Bronstein was bitten on the foot by a 7-ft. Komodo dragon after Stone arranged a special up-close visit at the Los Angeles Zoo. In September of that year Stone suffered a life-threatening brain aneurysm.

The ups and downs took their toll on the marriage. “She started spending more and more time in her house in Los Angeles and less time at their place up there,” says a friend. “Eventually they just called it quits.” In 2003 Bronstein filed for divorce, citing irreconcilable differences. Both went on to become parents again: Stone adopted sons Laird, now 3, in 2005 and Quinn, 2, in 2006; that year Bronstein married Christine Borders, 35, of the bookstore family, and had another son, Caleb.

Meanwhile a judge gave Stone and Bronstein joint custody of Roan, a situation that had the boy flying back and forth between his parents every three weeks and attending two separate kindergartens. Under stress from the constant changes, Roan fell behind in school. So in 2006 Stone and Bronstein agreed that Roan would stay primarily with Bronstein during the school year.

But when Stone recently challenged the agreement, seeking to move Roan to Los Angeles, Judge Massullo sided with Bronstein. Massullo made headlines by repeating a claim of Bronstein’s that Stone suggested Botox injections as a way to deal with Roan’s smelly feet. It is a claim Stone vehemently denies. “Sharon never made any statements on the issue of putting Botox in the child’s feet,” her lawyer Marty Singer told PEOPLE. “This generally happens in divorces involving custody: People name-call and make accusations that the other one is a bad parent. It’s very unfortunate because the child in many cases is the one who suffers.”

Fortunately the court papers portray Roan as a child who has finally adjusted to his parents’ divorce. He has started to thrive in school and at home, where Bronstein never misses a bedtime story. “That might have been part of the reason he and Sharon broke up,” says a Bronstein friend. “He was so devoted to Roan and parenting, it didn’t leave much time for their relationship.”

Undaunted, Stone plans to spend more time in San Francisco to be with Roan and is looking for a place to stay there. “Sharon only wants the best for the child,” says Singer. Her boyfriend Chase Dreyfous, 24, whom she met working on one of her charities, dotes on her children, friends say. “He hangs out with the kids quite a bit,” a source says. “He’s always going to the playground and out to dinner with them.” Adds a friend: “I don’t care what [court documents] say. Sharon loves those boys, and she would do anything for them.”