FLCR: Paternity of W.C.; P.S. v. W.C.

Case: Paternity of W.C.; P.S. v. W.C.

Case Summary – by Mike Kohlhaas

HELD: Trial court erred by suspending Mother’s parenting time with Child in the absence of evidence that Mother endangered Child’s physical health and well-being, or significantly impaired Child’s emotional development.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY:

Mother and Father have one child together (“Child”), born in 2000. Child suffers from autism spectrum disorder. Father’s paternity of Child was established two years later, and Father received IPTG parenting time. In 2009, custody was modified from Mother to Father, and in 2010, the trial court restricted Mother’s parenting time to one hour on Sundays that would occur at a McDonald’s and be supervised by Father, plus a phone call between Mother and Child on Wednesday afternoons. The record is unclear what developments led to the change in custody and parenting time, but there is a suggestion that Mother experienced significant health problems.

At a subsequent reviewing hearing, Father testified in detail about Mother’s parenting time interactions with Child at McDonald’s. There was testimony that Mother spoke to Child “like he was a baby,” that Mother helped Child eat, and that Mother made references to the parties’ court proceedings. However, there were no allegations of Mother being a danger to Child. Following this review hearing, the trial court issued an order that “[Mother’s] parenting time rights and all right of any contact with the parties’ minor child . . . be suspended immediately.” Mother appealed.

On appeal, the Court of Appeals first observed that the trial court “failed to make the requisite statutory finding of endangerment to [Child’s] physical health and well-being or significant impairment to [Child’s] emotional development.” The Court also summarized the historical right of parents to have parenting time with their children, though that right is subordinate to the best interests of a child.

The Court noted that Mother’s parenting time had already been substantially whittled down to just one-hour per week, in person and supervised. In addition, the record presented “does not approach the egregious circumstances in which we have previously found that parenting time may be terminated, such as when a parent sexually molests a child.” Therefore, in light of no evidence in the record to support any conclusion that Mother posed a threat to Child, the suspension of parenting time was reversed. The Court of Appeals also encouraged the trial court, on remand, to consider ordering Mother to counseling and parenting classes that might better enable her to deal with Child more appropriately.

Reversed and remanded.

To view the text of this opinion in its entirety, click here: Paternity of W.C.; P.S. v. W.C.

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