Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Trial Court Must Articulate a Reasonable Basis and Adequate Findings When Rejecting the Expert Conclusions

Woodward v. La Franca, 2013 UT App 147 Utah Court of Appeals Court June 13, 2013

Father filed a Petition to Modify requesting custody.  Mother engaged a therapist in an attempt to obtain evidence against Father and to confirm allegations of abuse.  When the therapist failed to provide evidence, Mother obtained a second therapist who also determined that Mothers allegations were unfounded.  At the Rule 106 hearing, Father was awarded custody because of mothers actions of having the child constantly interrogated and because of her coaching the child.  The court appointed a special master and a custody evaluator. Mother objected.  At the objection hearing, the therapists, special master and a custody evaluator agreed with the commissioners recommendation. The court, however, found that each expert was either unpersuasive and/or not credible and sustained the objection and returned custody to Mother. Father Appeals.

Court of Appeals found that the trial court must articulate a reasonable basis and adequate findings when rejecting the expert conclusions and failure to do so is an abuse of discretion.  The Court of Appeals then reviewed the testimony and criticized the trial courts summary dismissal of important evidence of coaching and possible mental illness of Mother.

The trial court further erred when finding that because Mother is an acceptable parent, she should retain custody.  The Court pointed out that a best interest evaluation gives no preference to status quo, but must evaluate which parent is the more acceptable parent.  Because the court failed to make adequate findings as to the expert testimony, and because it improperly evaluated the best interest, this case was Reversed and Remanded.

Full opinion available at: http://www.utcourts.gov/opinions/appopin/woodward061313.pdf 

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