Friday, March 09, 2012

Aggressive, vindictive blatant untruths hurled during a custody fight end with a father being limited to supervised visitation

Last week, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania addressed a sad case on appeal from the Bucks County trial court, M.O. v. F.W., 2012 Pa.Super 49.  The parents, who did not marry, had been involved in protracted litigation over their daughter.  The fighting started even before the child was born.  Notably, during the litigation, the parties engaged in a comprehensive custody evaluation with a private evaluator.  According to the Opinion of the Court, the parties agreed to share legal custody and Mother would have primary physical custody.  Unfortunately, the parents continued to battle and before the child’s fourth birthday, Father filed a Protection from Abuse Petition against Mother and her boyfriend.  He accused them of physically, emotionally, psychologically and sexually abusing the young girl.  Father also filed an Emergency Petition to Modify Custody.  A great deal of rancorous litigation ensued.  Mother responded that Father’s allegations were patently false and that Father had been continually having the child evaluated and examined by experts without her knowledge or agreement, which violated their joint legal custody arrangement.  

After hearing, the trial court entered a Temporary Order, which provided Mother with sole legal and physical custody and granted Father only supervised visits.  That Order eventually became a final order, and Father appealed.  

The Opinion indicates that not only did the Court not find evidence of abuse when the child was in Mother’s custody, but also that Father had actually manufactured the evidence and allegations as a custody strategy.  During the testimony, it came to light that Father routinely had the toddler strip-searched when returning from Mother’s for an intrusive and comprehensive examination by Father, as well as numerous emergency trips to the doctor and the police station.  The court noted that none of the investigations by either the police department or Children & Youth Services substantiated any of Father’s allegations and Father’s witnesses did not corroborate his stories.  Father also attacked the judge and the court by attempting to have the judge recused.  Additionally, Father made arguments on appeal regarding evidentiary issues.  

After a thorough review, the Superior Court affirmed the trial court’s detailed Opinion so that Father is now restricted to limited supervised visitation, which consists of only a few hours per week.  Obviously, this arrangement departs drastically from the substantial custody time he previously enjoyed.  

High conflict custody disputes often result in the devastation of the relationship between the parents, but also irrevocable harm to the child and other friends and family members in the path of the fighting.  Moreover, sometimes parties begin to spiral out of control in other areas of their lives as well, which can cause other financial and legal problems.   How do you avoid this scorched earth result?  

1. Put the interests of your child above your rancor and ill-will towards the other parent.

2. Be realistic and reasonable in your demands and positions.

3. Take this opportunity to be a role model for your child, demonstrating how a mature, reasonable adult deals with an adverse situation.

4. Do not let jealousy and rage color your emotions.  If the other parent becomes involved with a new paramour, then that person will be around your child.  Therefore, having a cordial relationship will benefit everyone.

This case involved unsubstantiated allegations, but abuse does happen and parents should not be swayed or deterred from vigorously safeguarding their children.  This Father’s methods including strip-searching the child and incessant visits to the police and doctor, along with his overall belligerent attitude, only added to the trauma.  Even if, heaven forbid, this child had been a victim of abuse, Father’s tactics would have only added to the tragedy.  

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