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Hanke v. Hanke - 94 Md. App. 65, 615 A.2d 1205 (1992)

Rule:

The appellate court reviews the findings and holdings, bearing in mind that the ultimate test for custody and visitation is the best interests of the child. In most instances the decision of the trial judge is accorded great deference, unless it is arbitrary or clearly wrong.

Facts:

On August 1, 1990, Mr. and Ms. Hanke were divorced by a judgment of the Circuit Court for Harford County. Mary Elizabeth Hanke was granted custody of their child. Dan Wolf Hanke was awarded overnight visitation rights. Ms. Hanke appealed. Ms. Hanke's concern for this child stemed in part from an incident of sexual abuse by Mr. Hanke of his stepchild, one of Ms. Hanke's daughters from a previous marriage. After the trial court entered its order that granted the ex-husband unsupervised, overnight visitation, Ms. Hanke moved the children from the state to Kentucky. As a result, the trial court changed the child's custody in favor of the ex-husband and terminated any child supported Ms. Hanke was receiving.

Issue:

Did the trial court err in granting Mr. Hanke unsupervised, overnight visitation with the young child?

Answer:

Yes.

Conclusion:

The court reversed the order of custody and visitation based upon the substantial evidence that supported Ms. Hanke's concerns that Mr. Hanke posed a threat for sexually abusing the child. That evidence included the husband's testimony related to the prior sexual abuse of the stepdaughter, plus psychological examinations, and the child's reporting of the husband molesting her. The court further found that the trial court was clearly wrong in concluding that the mother's concerns were mere overreacting because there was a basis for her belief based upon past behavior, and in any event it was clear that the trial court failed to act with the best interests of the child in mind.

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