Untreated Mental-Health Issues Lead to Change of Custody in Rogersville, Tennessee: In re M.M.

FactsChild was born to unmarried parents. Father, a military veteran, is disabled from physical ailments, posttraumatic stress disorder, and Tourette’s syndrome. After paternity was established, Father received temporary visitation under Mother’s supervision.

Nearly two years later, Father requested a hearing to address Mother’s noncompliance with the temporary parenting schedule. The trial court modified Father’s visitation to give him unsupervised parenting time.

Tennessee child custodyA few months later, Mother moved to suspend Father’s parenting time alleging that Father physically and sexually abused Child.

Mother was ordered to submit to a mental-health evaluation. The evaluator concluded that Mother suffers from Factitious Disorder Imposed on Another, formally known as Munchausen’s Syndrome by Proxy.

The trial court determined it was in Child’s best interest for Father to have custody and for Mother’s visitation to be limited to therapeutic visitation through a supervising agency.

Mother appealed.

On AppealThe Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court.

Tennessee Code Annotated § 36-6-106(a) contains the factors Tennessee courts must consider when determining the child’s best interest.

After reviewing the record, the Court found the evidence supports the trial court’s ruling:

In its order, the trial court specifically found that

Father is better suited to provide the child with appropriate food, clothing, medical care, education, and other necessary care.

* * * * *

[W]hile in the care of Mother, the minor child suffered emotional and medical neglect related to Mother’s diagnosis of Factitious Disorder by Proxy. To date, Mother has provided no evidence of treatment for said disorder, and the Court, therefore, finds that the child remains in [a] threat of harm [if] allowed to be with Mother in an unsupervised manner.

The court further determined that Mother has “disrupt[ed] the relationship between the minor child and the [f]ather.”

We hold that the evidence presented at trial does not preponderate against the trial court’s factual findings and that the court did not abuse its discretion in designating Father as primary residential parent and by limiting Mother to supervised visitation 11 hours a week. Most notably, the evidence does not preponderate against the court’s finding that Mother’s mental-health condition places the minor child in persistent danger.

The trial court’s ruling was affirmed.

In re M.M. (Tennessee Court of Appeals, Eastern Section, June 11, 2019).

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K.O. Herston is a family-law attorney in Knoxville, Tennessee whose practice is devoted exclusively to family law, including divorce, child custody, child support, alimony, prenuptial agreements, and other aspects of family law.

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