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Pastor gets custody from wife who walked

SUMMERDALE (AP) — A Baldwin County pastor whose wife drew wide notice when she disappeared from a Christian women's conference in Louis-iana will get sole custody of their two children, according to their divorce settlement.

The Rev. Jason Lee Smith's wife, Mary "Beth" Byrne Smith, also agreed to pay $200 a month in child support beginning in January.

According to the settlement Tuesday, she will get custody every other weekend from 6 p.m. Fridays until 6 p.m. Sundays, with the parents splitting custody on holidays.

Beth Smith also is allowed to call her children any time before 8 p.m.

She became the focus of concern by friends and widespread media interest after walking out of a religious seminar at a Bossier City, La., arena on the morning of March 24, setting off a search.

Authorities discovered she had pawned her wedding ring and eventually located her in New York, where she was working.

The Smiths have lived apart since she returned to Baldwin County in July.

Jason Smith, who filed for divorce Oct. 3, has cared for their two children — ages 10 and 7 — in a house First Baptist Church in Summerdale paid for.


Beth Smith had filed a counterclaim, agreeing to the divorce but not on his terms.

The former kindergarten teacher alleged continual ver-bal abuse, and said he had used the children as leverage against her.

Her attorney, D. Rob Stankoski, said she has been on "leave of absence" from the Baldwin County Board of Education since her disappearance and is thinking about getting into the real estate business.

"She's trying to do the best she can and the best for her kids," Stankoski said. "She felt it was in her best interest to get the divorce case resolved now."

The pastor's attorneys have declined to comment.

The settlement agreement says that further attempts at reconciliation are "impractical and futile and not in the best interest of the parties."

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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