Lack of Findings About Abuse Claims Causes Reversal in Murfreesboro, Tennessee Child-Custody Dispute: Friedsam v. Krisle

September 7, 2022 K.O. Herston 0 Comments

Facts: Unmarried Mother and Father have one child. When the child was three months old, Father called Mother and asked her to come get the child because the child was crying uncontrollably. Specifically, Mother claimed Father called her at work to inform her that the child would not “shut the fuck up, and I’m not dealing with it anymore.” After that, Mother no longer allowed Father to have unsupervised contact with the child because she was afraid Father would lose his temper with the child.

Two and a half years later, Father petitioned to establish parentage and visitation. Father requested equal parenting time. Mother proposed a schedule that transitioned from short supervised visits to unsupervised parenting time every other weekend.

Mother claimed Father was emotionally and physically abusive during their relationship. She recounted incidents where Father “charged” her, threw a phone, slapped a water bottle out of her hand, kicked at her feet, and smacked her across the face with a couch cushion when she wouldn’t give him her cell phone. Mother also produced text messages, including one where Father claimed he would “up child support” if she sent him a nude photo and another where he said he had stopped paying child support because she was a “fucking moneygrubbing bitch.”

A Rule 35 examination of Father revealed a diagnosis of an unspecified personality disorder because the examiner found three different dimensions: avoidant personality disorder, narcissistic personality disorder, and antisocial personality disorder. The examiner concluded that Father “has acted towards women in ways which are manipulative, deceptive, harassing, and abusive. His past behavior has raised questions regarding his emotional functioning.”

The trial court made an oral ruling from the bench, the transcript of which is nearly 100 pages long. (!!!) In comparison, the written order—drafted by Mother’s attorney—is 11 pages long.

The trial court ordered an equal parenting schedule implemented on a gradual basis. The trial court made no findings on whether Father had physically or emotionally abused Mother.

Mother appealed.

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

Tennessee law allows a court to limit parenting time if it finds physical abuse or a pattern of emotional abuse of the parent, child, or another person living with the child and if it finds the limitation of parenting time is in the child’s best interest.

The Court found the trial court failed to make sufficient findings on whether Father abused Mother:

[W]e can locate no express finding as to whether any of the abuse that Mother alleged occurred. Indeed, even taking the trial court’s oral findings as a whole, we find no further illumination from which we might glean whether the trial court found that such abuse was actually proven in this case.

[E]ven taking Mother’s testimony as to the physical violence as true, it certainly was not as pervasive as Father’s alleged emotional abuse…. [T]he question of whether Father physically abused Mother is simply not a question that we can answer in this appeal absent appropriate findings by the trial court.

And even if the trial court did not believe that Father’s conduct, however characterized, was sufficient to impose the highly restrictive parenting plan that Mother favored, the trial court’s order provides little illumination as to why an equal parenting plan was in the child’s best interest in this case. This is especially true here given (1) that no best interest factors favored Father alone; (2) the proof showed that the parties have animosity toward each other; and (3) [the Rule 35 examiner’s] expert proof indicated that Father has hostility toward women and a personality disorder that will be difficult to ameliorate.

Rather, from our review, the trial court’s conclusion that equal parenting was appropriate appears to focus nearly exclusively on whether Father was abusive to the child. Certainly, that is a highly relevant consideration, but both Tennessee Code Annotated §§ 36-6-106(a)(12) and 36-6-406(a)(2) make clear that abuse of a parent is also a relevant consideration. These statutes therefore direct the court to consider not only the likelihood of abuse that could be suffered by the child, but also the interactions that an abused parent must have with his or her abuser…. So § 36-6-406(a) makes clear that the abuse of the parent is relevant even without allegations that the child was also a victim. And while the trial court did give lip service to considering Mother’s allegations of emotional abuse, respectfully, the trial court avoided answering the question presented by Mother’s proof.

We certainly agree that not all conduct that may be considered under § 36-6-406 will justify limitations on a parent’s time with a child, given that the question must ultimately be based on the child’s best interest…. So we agree with the trial court that allegations of abuse must be viewed at all times through the lens of the child’s best interest.

Still, the trial court has a high duty to adjudicate and resolve the disputes put before it. The trial court is therefore required to explain why a particular result is correct based on the applicable legal principles. To fulfill this duty, the court’s order must contain sufficiently specific findings on the disputed facts that are crucial to determining the questions at issue.

Here, whether Father committed both physical and emotional abuse against Mother was a central issue in this case, which the trial court did not resolve…. [T]he trial court’s order is still virtually devoid of findings as to whether abuse of Mother occurred. In the absence of findings on the central question to this case, we cannot conduct appropriate appellate review.

The Court vacated the trial court’s judgment and sent the case back to the trial court to resolve the outstanding factual questions and to enter a parenting plan that considers those findings.

Friedsam v. Krisle (Tennessee Court of Appeals, Middle Section, August 25, 2022).

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Lack of Findings About Abuse Claims Causes Reversal in Murfreesboro, Tennessee Child-Custody Dispute: Friedsam v. Krisle was last modified: September 4th, 2022 by K.O. Herston

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