Family lawyers are seeing a lot of custody cases these days in which allegations of abuse result in an investigation by Child Protection Services (CPS) workers. When a parent reports alleged abuse to CPS, that agency must investigate. If the allegations are found to be untrue, there can be a significant negative impact when the trial court makes decisions about child custody and parenting time. In a recent Michigan case, the father was awarded sole custody and that mother was awarded two hours of supervised parenting time per week until further order of the court.
The result above occurred in Simmons v Simmons-Butler, a St. Clair County Circuit Court decision affirmed yesterday by the Court of Appeals.
The trial court made findings of fact to support its award of sole legal custody and primary physical custody to the father. Defendant Mother was awarded parenting time that was supervised for two hours per week until further order of the court. She appealed claiming that the parenting time was grossly insufficient, and that the trial court should have ordered increased parenting time.
The COA disagreed, stating: "When the trial court made its decision regarding the frequency and duration of the mother's parenting time, it did so with the best interests of the children in mind," and holding that the parenting time order was supported by the trial court’s findings regarding the best interest factors articulated when granting custody to plaintiff.
The following particular facts where found by the T/C to mitigate against granting defendant greater parenting time:
- The defendant mother continually accused plaintiff of abuse without factual support;
- The defendant mother subjected the children to multiple forensic interviews in an effort to bolster her baseless allegations of abuse;
- The defendant mother’s behavior rendered her “morally unfit” and lacking the disposition to provide proper care for the children;
- The defendant mother did little to address the older child’s behavioral issues;
- The defendant mother actively discouraged a close and continuing relationship between plaintiff and the children;
- The defendant mother willfully violated the trial court’s parenting time order and hid the children; and
- The defendant mother engaged in domestic violence against plaintiff.
Defendant mother arguedin the COA that she was justified in reporting the issues to CPS and that she loved and cared for the children, but the Court found her argument unpersuasive, stating:
"[D]efendant has done little by way of argument to demonstrate that the trial court erred in determining parenting time. Trial evidence supported the factors mitigating against greater parenting time, and the trial court’s findings with respect to parenting time were not against the great weight of the evidence. MCL 722.28. Importantly, defendant has not been removed from the children’s lives as she has weekly parenting time, and the trial court’s order—as it must—left open the possibility that she can be granted more time in the future.
You may read the Butler case here: Download Butler_v_Simmons_Butler
Other posts on this Blog discuss the issue of allegations of child abuse in custody battles. There are ways to bring suspected abuse to the court's attention. The best way to do this is to try to get a mandated reporter to make the report.
The following Blog post explains who is mandated to report child abuse and neglect.
Posts illustrating negative consequences of making allegations of abuse are these: