Facts: During the divorce litigation, Mother temporarily had primary residential custody of Child in Tennessee. Father, a veterinarian in Missouri, had regular visitation. Mother began expressing her concerns to Child’s physicians that Father had sexually abused Child. “These concerns arose in part out of the fact that Father’s father, a psychiatrist, had been convicted and imprisoned for sexual abuse of patients and Mother’s suspicion that sexual problems ran in Father’s family.” Doctor after doctor confirmed there was no evidence of sexual abuse but this did not assuage Mother, who kept trying to find someone who would find evidence of abuse. Tennessee’s Department of Children’s Services investigated Mother’s allegations and administratively “indicated” Father as a perpetrator of child abuse despite the lack of evidence. The Missouri Department of Social Services also investigated and found the allegations to be “unsubstantiated.” After six days of testimony from several expert witnesses, the trial court found Mother’s allegations to be untrue and, acting upon the expert’s recommendations, awarded primary residential custody to Father.
In a lengthy opinion, the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court, concluding that “there is overwhelming evidence that Mother’s falsely founded obsession [with the sexual abuse allegations] has and will harm the child.” The Court further found
[t]here is no evidence of physical or emotional abuse of the child by Father. However, Mother is convinced that the father has sexually abused the child. This falsely held belief on her part and her false accusations against Father is in and of itself abuse of the child according to Dr. Ackerman. . . . The most significant factor is that the Mother has not been willing to facilitate and encourage a close and continuing parent child relationship between the child and the other parent. This is evidenced by her continued attempts to convince health care professionals that the Father is a sexual victim and abuser and that this child has been abused. She continues to insist that there should be supervised visitation between the child and the father. This heavily weighs in favor of the father.
Noting that Mother “had become preoccupied with the notion that Father was abusing the child and refused to let go of that obsession despite the lack of evidence to support it,” the Court of Appeals affirmed the award of custody to Father.
Information provided by K.O. Herston, Tennessee Divorce Lawyer.