Allegations of starvation, abuse, rape, and greed are at the center of the increasingly confusing custody battle for 14-year-old Modern Family actress Ariel Winter, who was removed from the care of her mother last month after the Department of Child and Family Services began an investigation into the family. Ariel's mother has raised three child stars—one of them being the boy who played Pugsley Addams—and 20 years ago she lost custody of her older daughter, who has since been awarded guardianship of Ariel. How'd that happen? Let's break down this tangled, sad web.
The 14-year old star of Modern Family has been a steadily working actress since she was 6 years old. She reportedly earns $75,000 a week on the ABC sitcom, and also has a lucrative voiceover career. She has landed the lead role in a new animated Disney franchise, Sofia the First: Once Upon a Princess, premiering later this year. She is currently at the center of a custody battle after she was removed from her mother's care following allegations of physical and emotional abuse (more details on that in a bit). In early October, 2012 Ariel contacted The Department of Child and Family Services (DCFS) to report the abuse. That same day a judge at an emergency hearing placed Ariel in the guardianship of her adult sister Shanelle Gray.
Chrisoula "Chrystal" Workman
The mother of the 14-year-old actress is something of a professional stage mom. Her two adult children, Shanelle and Jimmy, were also both successful child actors. She has been accused of physically and emotionally abusing Ariel which court documents have described as "slapping, hitting, pushing" and "vile name calling, personal insults about [Ariel and her weight], attempts to 'sexualize'[Ariel], deprivation of food, etc. for an extended period of time." Although Chrystal "vehemently denies the allegations" she was temporarily stripped of her guardianship, ordered to stay 100 yards away from Ariel, and has been denied access to her daughter's bank account.
In a hearing on Tuesday, DCFS issued a damning report of Chrystal, concluding that she indeed abused Ariel and should be completely and permanently stripped of guardianship. The report also stated that the agency thought the situation was so horrible that it planned to go to Dependency Court to make Ariel a ward of the state, but ultimately decided to give the court the opportunity to award permanent guardianship to Ariel's sister.
Chrystal has launched a smear campaign of sorts against both of her daughters, claiming that Shanelle is only after Ariel's money and that Ariel is just angry that her mother tried to break up her relationship with her 18-year-old boyfriend. She testified that she caught Ariel having sex with the boy and filed a police report against him for statutory rape. However, the 14-year-old denies having a sexual relationship with her boyfriend. Authorities reportedly believe Ariel, saying that the timing of Chrystal's testimony doesn't add up. Chrystal claims that Ariel and her older boyfriend have been together for about five or six months, caught them in bed together in September, but didn't call the police until after she lost custody of Ariel.
She lost her temper during the guardianship hearing and had an outburst in court, yelling at Ariel's attorney, calling him a "moron."
According to numerous sources that have worked on set with Ariel on several different projects, Chrystal is a "terror" of a stage mother. Producers of Modern Family supposedly wanted her banned from set because she was "hated" by the crew, actors and other parents over of her treatment of Ariel.
"Chrystal would sit on set and watch Ariel like a hawk — and then berate her for her physical appearance, saying her ears were too big and she looked ugly in her clothes. She also blocked Ariel from eating anything but egg whites and raw veggies. [Her] obsession with Ariel's diet was so extreme…crew members contrived a plan to 'sneak' the 14-year-old food (like grilled cheese sandwiches) when [Chrystal] wasn't looking."
Chrystal has submitted letters to the court from Ariel's pediatrician and stylist denying any signs of abuse. And she blames the castmates on Modern Family for putting the term "sexualized" into Ariel's head, after Chrystal took heat for having the young girl wear a dress to an event that showed off her breasts.
Shenelle Gray (née Workman)
Ariel's 34-year-old sister is a married mother of two small children and has worked as an actress since she was a child, but is perhaps best known for her roles as an adult on The Bold and the Beautiful and One Life to Live. Shanelle reportedly has a "volatile" relationship with her mother Chrystal. When she was 16, DCFS removed Shanelle from Chrystal's home based on similar allegations of abuse. Shanelle was then placed in foster care until she aged out of the system two years later.
She was awarded temporary custody of Ariel, and is seeking permanent guardianship of her younger sister. Although Chrystal has accused Shanelle of being after Ariel's money, in her petition for guardianship, Shanelle requested that the courts block everyone's access to Ariel's bank accounts.
Ariel's dad is estranged from her mother and hasn't lived with the family for some time. He has filed an objection to Shanelle's petition, stating that he is physically and financially capable of taking care of his daughter and would be "willing to move back to the family residence and reside with Ariel." In court documents, he also claimed Shanelle is "maneuvering to alienate Ariel" from the rest of the family. To assure the judge that he is not financially motivated, Glenn requested that the court appoint a business manager to "handle [Ariel's] finances and advise her on how to responsibly spend it." He also noted that his "income would be enough to support the both of us even if Ariel was not working."
Ariel's 32-year-old brother is best known for his role as Pugsley in The Addams Family movies. Earlier in the week, he issued a letter to the court stating that he had never witnessed any abuse by his mother toward Ariel, and asked that the 14-year-old be returned to Chrystal. However, on Tuesday, outside of the courthouse, he said that Ariel should be placed with his father, not his mother.
Ariel's 18-year-old boyfriend is known for his roles in various children's TV shows. He is now being investigated for statutory rape after Chrystal Workman filed a police report against him for sleeping with Ariel.