Although the decision of the trial judge is accorded great deference in custody and visitation proceedings, the failure to consider the best interests of the child, especially in light of evidence of a father's sexual abuse of another child, was clearly wrong.
The circuit court granted the parties a divorce and awarded custody of the couple's four-year-old daughter to the mother but reserved the issue of the father's visitation for later. After the Maryland trial court entered its order granting the father unsupervised, overnight visitation, the mother moved the daughter and her siblings to Kentucky. The trial judge, apparently annoyed that the mother had moved the children to Kentucky, changed the child's custody to the father and terminated any child support that the mother was receiving, stating that the mother's concerns were mere overreacting. The mother appealed, given that her concerns for the safety of the parties' young daughter were based upon, inter alia, the fact that the father had pled guilty to having sexually abused his 11-year-old stepdaughter, the mother's child from another relationship.
Did a trial court error in discounting a mother's concerns as mere overreacting and granting a father unsupervised, overnight visitation with his four-year-old daughter?
The appellate court reversed the order of custody and visitation. Substantial evidence was found to support the mother's concerns for her child's welfare, which included the father's own testimony that he had sexually abused his stepdaughter while he had been drinking, as well as psychological examinations, and the child's reporting of her stepfather molesting her. The court further found that the trial court was clearly wrong in granting the father unsupervised, overnight visitation when it failed to consider the best interests of the child. In addition, the court directed that the Maryland court system no longer had jurisdiction as such appeared to have been assumed by the courts of Kentucky.