The rule that out-of-court non-hearsay statements may be admitted which circumstantially indicate a state of mind regardless of the truth of the statement, is especially applicable in child custody proceedings. The mental state of the child is an important element in determining what is best for the child's welfare. A trial court should consider the truth of the child's assertion only if such statements meet the reliability test required of the present state of mind exception to the hearsay rule.
Defendant Rita A. Betts, now Rita A. Caporale, appeals from a judgment modifying a California divorce decree which had awarded her custody of the children of the parties. In modifying the divorce decree the trial court awarded custody of the 5-year-old daughter, Tracey Lynn, now the sole child of the parties, to plaintiff Michael E. Betts. The mother's assignments of error raise three contentions: (1) The superior court of this state did not have jurisdiction to modify the California divorce decree; (2) Out-of-court statements of the child, relied on by the trial court, were inadmissible because they constituted hearsay evidence, and for the further reason that the child was not qualified to testify as a witness; (3) The trial court abused its discretion in modifying the California decree by changing the custody from the mother to the father.
Taking into consideration all the circumstances present in the case, was the district court of Washington correct in modifying a California divorce decree, and thus, transferring the custody of the child from the defendant to the plaintiff?
The appellate court affirmed, holding that the trial court had jurisdiction to modify the foreign divorce decree regarding child custody because the trial court had jurisdiction over the child since the child was a ward of the state at the time of the custody proceedings and was therefore a state domiciliary. The court also held that statements the child made to her foster mother were not inadmissible hearsay because the statements were not admitted to prove the truth of the allegations but merely to indirectly and inferentially show the child's mental state. Further, the court held that the custody modification was proper, as there was substantial evidence of changed conditions to indicate that the modification would best serve the child's interests.