'Toddlers & Tiaras' mom could lose custody of daughter because she puts her in pageants

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Published August 17, 2012

| FoxNews.com

Last year, pint-sized beauty queen Madisyn “Maddy” Verst sparked outrage when she appeared on TLC’s hit reality show “Toddlers & Tiaras” prancing around in a sparkly Dolly Parton outfit complete with padded breasts and backside.

The then five-year-old’s saucy shake and shimmy landed her on the cover People magazine, with the headline asking, “Gone Too Far?”

That question could be answered Friday, August 17 at 1pm EST when a court hearing is scheduled in Campbell County, Kentucky to decide who will be granted custody of Maddy, her mother, Lindsay Jackson, or father, Bill Verst, who has petitioned the court for full custody.

“I’ve done nothing wrong, by way of being a mother, I’m a great mother,” Jackson told FOXNews.com exclusively. “Because I participate in pageants with my daughter is not a reason to take my child from me.”

Jackson claims that her ex-husband is using Maddy’s participation in child beauty pageants as a reason for the court to award him full custody.

“Pageants have never been challenged, they’re not illegal,” said Jackson. “I’m not doing anything illegal with my kid.”

However, in documents obtained by FoxNews.com, a psychologist appointed by the court recommends the parents "maintain a temporary joint custodial arrangement, with Bill as primary residential custodian."

In coming to the recommendation, the psychologist writes over 3,000 words condemning Maddy’s participation in child beauty pageants, specifically citing her Dolly Parton number on “Toddlers & Tiaras” and photographs of Maddy dressed as “sexy police officer.” 

“Obviously, if I had know that this Dolly thing was going to be an issue, I wouldn’t have done it, especially on national TV,” said Jackson. “I never intended for it to be a negative costume – it was costume designed to represent our state. Dolly’s from Tennessee, so that’s what I did. As far as the police outfit goes, it’s nothing more than a pair of shorts and a shirt that says, ‘Bad cop, no donut’ on the back. You can buy it for retail as a Halloween costume – and it’s more revealing than what Madisyn was wearing. That outfit was never intended on being sexualized. (The court-appointed psychologist) thinks it is, but that’s a matter of opinion.”

The court-appointed psychologist is not alone in believing Jackson is contributing to the sexualization of her daughter.

“The whole pageant mentality concerns me – especially for very young children,” Dr. Jenn Berman, a Beverly Hills-based psychotherapist and host of VH1’s upcoming season of “Couples Therapy,” told FoxNews.com. “Giving children the idea that their value is in looking pretty or being sexualized is a very scary message to give kids, especially at such a young age. I can definitely understand why a court-appointed psychologist would be concerned.”

But Jackson believes that because of her ex-husband’s connections, the judge, and the court-appointed psychologist, are biased against her.

“We’re in a very, very small town and his family is very, very political and very, very well-known and very, very wealthy, they’re very involved in the court system and everything else,” said Jackson. “I’m fighting a losing battle in a county because of who his family is and how much money they have. I shouldn’t be in this court to begin with, it should have been moved to another court so it would be unbiased.”

One legal expert says Jackson will have an uphill battle in her case.

“Nine times out of ten, judges will use the (court-ordered psychologist's) report verbatim,” Beverly Hills-based attorney Evan T. Sussman told FOXNews.com. “If a psychologist is appointed as an expert on a case, they’re a neutral expert and the reports are very persuasive.”

Jackson fears that the court will award her ex-husband custody of Maddy, despite Verst having a lengthy record that includes alcohol and drug-related arrests.

“He does not pay child support,” alleged Jackson of her ex-husband. “He’s been ordered to pay $500 a year for school stuff, and he has not paid that. Up until August of this last year, which is when ‘Toddlers & Tiaras’ came out, he never challenged the premise of pageants at all. But when ‘Toddlers & Tiaras’ came out, somebody else gave him the idea to say that I was sexualizing her, and he decided to run with it.”

Verst's attorney had no comment when reached by FoxNews.com. A representative for the Campbell County Family Court in Kentucky declined comment, telling FoxNews.com, “We can’t comment on a case that is in open litigation right now.”

Jackson is concerned that a ruling against her could set a precedent. 

“If (the judge decides) that Maddy needs to live with her dad because she does pageants with me, then that opens the door for any parent to challenge anybody on activity that a kid does, period,” declared Jackson. “We could really open up Pandora’s Box to set a precedent all over the world. What if years ago Gabby Douglas’ father said, ‘She’s not going to be a gymnast. She’s not going to move away from home and practice gymnastics because I won’t allow it,’ and he and Gabby’s mother got into a fight? We wouldn’t have gold medal winners, we wouldn’t have Miss America, we wouldn’t have Miss USA.”

Sussman noted that if Jackson loses custody of Maddy due to her participation in child beauty pageants, it could effect decisions in future court cases across the United States. “It certainly could be persuasive,” said the family law attorney. “It’s not binding, but it certainly could be persuasive.” 

“I think it’s very eye-opening and I think it will probably send waves through the pageant world,” Dr. Berman said of the potential outcome of the court case. “I’m sure that there will be a lot of parents who will be very worried for what this means for their kid and their relationship with their kid.”

In any case, Jackson remains defiant in her defense of child beauty pageants.

“While some people may or may not agree with pageants–it’s not illegal,” said Jackson. “I shouldn’t be at risk of losing my child simply because she participates in a hobby that some people don’t like.”

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http://www.foxnews.com/entertainment/2012/08/17/toddlers-tiaras-mom-could-lose-custody-daughter-because-puts-her-in-pageants/