Denial of Offer of Proof Is Harmless Error in Covington, Tennessee Parenting Dispute: A.W. v. M.N.

April 19, 2021 K.O. Herston 0 Comments

Facts: Mother and Father met when she was a high school student, and he was a teacher at her school. She is over 20 years younger than him.

Years later, they began a sexual relationship that led to the birth of Child. After a few months of marriage, they separated.

Mother’s four-year-old daughter from an earlier relationship reported that Father sexually abused her.

After Child returned to Mother after unsupervised parenting time with Father, three-year-old Child made statements suggesting sexual abuse.

Mother filed an emergency petition to suspend Father’s parenting time.

Medical examinations and forensic interviews ensued, none of which showed evidence of sexual abuse.

At the hearing, Mother tried to introduce proof of Father’s past relationships and interactions with young women. During the maternal grandmother’s testimony, the trial court sustained Father’s objection to this line of questioning. Mother asked to make an offer of proof, but the trial court denied that request because Mother did not show how Father’s alleged relationships with young women related to the allegations involving Child:

MOTHER’S COUNSEL: I feel like to make it on the record, . . . I wanted on the record so that when this goes up on appeal it’s there. And I have that right. So, I would like to make an offer of proof.

THE COURT: And I’m going to sustain [Father’s counsel’s] objection, because I do not feel that it is relevant to this proceeding.

MOTHER’s COUNSEL: Are you prohibiting me from making an offer of proof on the record?


During Mother’s testimony, she was allowed to make an offer of proof on the same issue.

MOTHER’S COUNSEL: . . . there is a pattern of behavior here that’s significant of sexual activity between [Father] and young women of all ages, that we have the right to make the record in this case. . . . But I also have heard the Court state what you stated. And if you want me to move on, I will. But I’m renewing my request to make an offer of proof for the purposes of the transcript and appellate purposes.

THE COURT: Make your record.

Mother then made her offer of proof.

Finding there was a lack of evidence to substantiate Mother’s allegations, the trial court denied Mother’s petition to modify Father’s parenting time.

Mother appealed.

On Appeal: The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court.

When a Tennessee court rules that evidence is excluded, it must allow the party to make an offer of proof.

An offer of proof serves two purposes:

  • informing the trial court about the proof the party is seeking to offer; and
  • creating a record so an appellate court can review the trial court’s decision.

It is error to deny a request to make an offer of proof unless it is obvious from the record that the evidence could, under no circumstances, relate to the issues.

Here, the Court found the first refusal to allow an offer of proof was harmless error because, later in the trial, the offer of proof was allowed:

In this instance, regardless of whether the trial court initially erred in refusing to allow Mother to make an offer of proof when the maternal grandmother testified, any such error was harmless.

After the maternal grandmother testified, during her own testimony, Mother renewed her requests and made an offer of proof on Father’s alleged past relationships with young women. This offer of proof (1) informed that the trial court of the proof Mother sought to offer and (2) created a record for this Court to review the trial court’s evidentiary decision. Additionally, in its final order, the trial court specifically stated that the proof did not support Mother’s efforts to correlate Father’s alleged reputation for inappropriate relationships with young women and the allegations in this case. Further, allowing testimony on Father’s alleged reputation would not provide physical evidence of abuse. The trial court would still be forced to primarily rely on a young child’s report of alleged acts.

Mother asserts that the trial court’s decision must be reversed because it denied her an opportunity to make an offer of proof when the grandmother testified. For the reasons that we have previously mentioned, we find this assertion to be futile. There is no suggestion that the grandmother knew any additional facts about Father’s reputation that Mother could not testify to during her offer of proof. Thus, any potential error the trial court made in denying Mother this opportunity was harmless.

The trial court’s judgment was affirmed.

A.W. v. M.N. (Tennessee Court of Appeals, Western Section, April 7, 2021).

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Denial of Offer of Proof Is Harmless Error in Covington, Tennessee Parenting Dispute: A.W. v. M.N. was last modified: April 13th, 2021 by K.O. Herston

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