Judge Revokes Ruling to Give Dad Full Custody After Mom's Accusation of Rape Prompted Outcry
A Louisiana judge has reversed an earlier decision granting a father full custody of his daughter after the child's mother accused the man of getting her pregnant by raping her.
Online records obtained by PEOPLE confirm Judge Jeffrey Cashe issued an order Tuesday, temporarily transferring physical custody of Crysta Abelseth and John Barnes' 15-year-old daughter to a third party guardian.
According to the ruling, Abelseth, 32, and Barnes, 46, will alternate custody of the girl on weekends. Both parents had to sign off on the court-appointed steward.
Cashe also decided Tuesday to appoint the teen daughter her own attorney.
Abelseth alleges that Barnes raped her in late 2005, when she was 16 and he was 30. Barnes has not been charged with a crime in connection with the rape allegations.
On March 21, 2022, Cashe had awarded Barnes full custody of the girl, despite allegations that Barnes had been sexually, physically and verbally abusive of a child. Those allegations were first brought to the state's Department of Children and Family Services by a school counselor. Barnes has not been charged in connection with the abuse allegations.
Cashe also ordered Abelseth to pay child support to Barnes, who denies all of Abelseth's allegations, calling them "absolutely, unequivocally false" in an exclusive interview with Fox News Digital on Monday.
"It's a lie," Barnes told Fox News Digital. "She was in a bar with a fake ID, telling everyone she was a college student. I had no idea she was 16, and I didn't rape her."
Court documents viewed by PEOPLE, including DNA test results, confirm Barnes is the biological father of Abelseth's daughter. Had the sexual encounter been consensual, as Barnes insists, it still would have amounted to statutory rape. In Louisiana in 2005, the age of consent was 17, as it is today.
In 2015, Abelseth filed a complaint with the Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff's Office against Barnes, alleging he'd raped her on Dec. 13, 2005, after they'd both been drinking at a bar in Hammond. Abelseth told investigators Barnes had offered her a ride home. Instead, she said, he took her to his place in Ponchatoula. "I had woken up on the bathroom floor nude," Abelseth wrote in her statement, saying she was unable to give consent as she was unconscious during the encounter.
Abelseth further alleges in her written statement Barnes had threatened to seek full custody of the girl, should she ever pursue criminal charges against him.
Barnes told Fox Digital, "All I have been trying to do is protect my daughter," Barnes told Fox News Digital.
Abelseth's 2015 complaint wasn't assigned to a detective until this year, the court records show. The Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff's Office in a statement acknowledged they did not properly investigate that allegation and said the case was turned over to prosecutors on Wednesday.
"In tracing this case back to the time the initial complaint was filed on July 1, 2015, it was discovered that the report never made it through the proper channels within the department to be assigned for investigation," reads the statement. "Therefore, our department absolutely dropped the ball, and we simply must own our mistake. This is a mistake, however, that simply has never been a problem before or since, and we must make sure to keep it that way."
Abelseth alleges in the filings that she didn't report the alleged rape for years because she thought victims had only 24 hours to go to the police after such crimes occurred. She ended up reporting the alleged rape after learning the statute of limitations for rape was 30 years after the victim turns 18.
The custody battle began in 2011, after the girl turned 5, and Barnes learned he might have a child; Abelseth tells PEOPLE she has no idea how he discovered the daughter's existence, but Barnes told Fox News Digital she was the one who informed him that he might be a dad.
Barnes took Abelseth to court, and once paternity was established, Barnes sought and was awarded shared custody of the child, despite their ages at the time Abelseth became pregnant. Barnes sued for sole custody of the girl in May 2015, after accusing Abelseth of having men stay overnight at the home while their daughter was present.
"Men were coming in and out of my child's life," he told Fox News Digital. "She had three husbands in six years and it wasn't healthy."
Judge Cashe took over the case in August 2015. Six months later, a split-custody agreement was reached, and Abelseth was ordered to pay $78.41 to Barnes each month. That sum increased to $117.72 per month in 2017.
Abelseth requested that Barnes' custody be limited, but Cashe denied that motion. Months later, the judge held Abelseth in contempt for allegedly giving the daughter a cell phone; in a previous decision, Cashe barred the girl from owning a phone.
Barnes told Fox News Digital he'd moved for expanded custody in December 2020, alleging Abelseth had been irresponsible as a parent. He told the site he did not want his daughter having another phone after learning there were inappropriate pictures and videos on her previous phone.
On Feb. 2, 2022, Cashe found Abelseth in contempt over the phone, and she was ordered to pay $500. He again told the mother not to get the girl a phone.
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In a March 18, 2022, hearing before Cashe, a child's abuse accusations involving Barnes were brought up, and Abelseth asked for full custody. But Cashe said criminal charges were never pursued against Barnes and that the evidence failed to support allegations he had abused a child. Days later, Barnes filed for full custody, claiming Abelseth provided their daughter with a second phone. Cashe granted the request the same day.
Abelseth tells PEOPLE the allegations made by Barnes she provided her daughter with a cell phone are "false."
Neither Barnes nor Cashe has responded to PEOPLE's repeated requests for comment.
Speaking to Fox News Digital, Barnes said he just wants the best for his "very intelligent" daughter, who has aspirations of becoming a nurse. "She has a very promising future," he told the site. "I want to preserve that and keep her on the right track like any loving parent would want for their child."
The issue of the daughter's custody will be decided during a trial that's set to start July 15.