False Allegations of Child Abuse in a Child Custody Case
In cases of alleged sexual molestation of a child by a parent sharing parenting time and legal decision making, the Court must carefully weigh all testimony, consider expert opinion, and make accurate interpretations of the law in their efforts to provide for the safety and best interests of the child. In many situations, such as those seen in the unpublished Arizona Court of Appeals decision in the Flynn v. Brown case, false or misguided accusations of abuse can severely damage relationships that are in the child’s best interests to protect. Amanda C. Flynn (Mother) and Gregory Scott Brown (Father) were divorced 2011.
The dissolution decree awarded Mother sole legal custody and final decision-making authority. The father was granted supervised parenting time. Mother filed a petition to modify parenting time in 2013 claiming that the father molested their daughter. The family court judge awarded the mother sole legal decision-making authority and suspended the father’s parenting time on an emergency basis until the issue could be addressed in court. After the hearing, emergency temporary orders were affirmed, the child’s counseling was discontinued, and the trial was scheduled.
In the joint pretrial statement, the father requested joint legal decision-making authority. Mother objected. After a three-day trial, the trial court judge concluded that the father did not molest the parties’ daughter. The mother saw a “hickey” on their daughter’s neck. When the child was asked what happened, she responded that her father had kissed her neck and the mother jumped to the conclusion the father had molested their daughter. From this point forward, the mother interpreted everything the child said as indicative of sexual behavior or a sign she had been molested. The family court judge found that the mother’s responses to the child held to shape the child’s statements.
Over time, the mother’s behavior also shaped the “child’s interpretation of events” as well as her “emotional responses” to them. The family court judge also found portions of the mother’s testimony regarding the father to be false. The record of the trial made it apparent to the trial court judge that the mother lacked “objectivity and perspective.” The family court judge denied the mother’s request for a modified order discontinuing the father’s parenting time. The trial court also found that the substantial change of circumstances presented by the case justified changing the mother’s sole legal decision making to joint legal decision making authority. The family court judge also found that in her misguided efforts to protect the daughter from the father, the father/daughter relationship had been damaged and was now at risk.
Court Ruling on Allegations of Child Abuse
The court concluded the mother’s insistence that she retain sole legal decision that the father’s parenting time should be discontinued stemmed from an unhealthy mistrust of the father, which was not in the child’s best interests. The family court judge also noted in its findings that the mother had overstated evidence in support of her allegations. In some instances, even presenting testimony that was not truthful. It appeared to the Court that the mother convinced herself that the father was a danger to the child and, as a result, adopted an “end justifies the means” approach to the case and accompanying proceedings.
The mother argued that the trial court erred by ordering a modification because the father did not ask the trial court to modify the prior legal decision-making orders and she, therefore, did not have fair notice that issue would be addressed. The Arizona Court of Appeals ruled that the Joint Pretrial Statement filed by both parties one week before the first day of trial and five weeks before the final day of trial to be an “amending [of] the pleading.” The mother’s objection to the statement serves as evidence that she was duly notified. Additionally, objections regarding procedure must be filed prior to completion of the case.
The mother also argued on appeal that the trial court erred in its finding of the existence of a changed circumstance since the prior child custody orders were entered, its ruling permitting the father to provide an alternative explanation for the mark on the child’s neck, the trial court’s finding that the father’s alternative explanation was “more consistent with evidence” than the alleged sexual molestation, and the trial court’s dependence on testimony occurring prior to the hearing.
The mother did not provide transcripts of the trial supporting her arguments to the Court of Appeals, nor did she provide any continued development of the arguments for the Court of Appeals of Arizona to consider. The burden of providing all necessary documentation regarding the case and in support of her arguments on appeal was the mother’s responsibility. Absent such record being transmitted to the Court of Appeals, the Arizona Court of Appeals must assume that the exhibits and trial transcripts would support the trial court’s findings. In addition, based on the limited evidence that was presented on appeal, the mother’s arguments fail. The Arizona Court of Appeals finds no error or abuse of discretion in the case of Flynn v. Brown and affirmed the trial court’s ruling.
Chris Hildebrand wrote this article to ensure everyone has access to information about family law in Arizona. Chris is a divorce and family law attorney at Hildebrand Law, PC. He has over 24 years of Arizona family law experience and has received multiple awards, including US News and World Report “Top Arizona Divorce Attorneys”, Phoenix Magazine “Top Divorce Law Firms”, and Arizona Foothills Magazine “Best of the Valley” award. He believes the policies and procedures he uses to get his clients through a divorce should all be guided by the principles of honesty, integrity, and, quite frankly, actually caring about what his clients are going through in a divorce or family law case. In short, his practice is defined by the success of his clients. He also manages all of the other attorneys at his firm to make sure the outcomes in their clients’ cases are successful as well.