Court-Appointed Therapists in California Child Custody Cases – In re Marriage of Erikson – thoits law

State law gives a judge the power to appoint a therapist for children involved in custody litigation. As a recent case out of the Second District Court of Appeals shows, judges have broad discretion in appointing a therapist, as well as in replacing the therapist if the judge sees fit.

antistress-1-1506008Mother obtained a domestic violence restraining order against Father and filed for divorce in 2004, less than a year after they were married. She gave birth to twins – a boy and a girl – later the same year. Mother was awarded sole legal and physical custody of the children in 2006, a decision that the Court later said was based in part on Father’s criminal history, substance abuse, and “explosive behavior during visits with the twins.” Father was allowed, however, to have supervised visits with the kids. The trial court appointed Ms. Cholet as the children’s therapist. After two years of working with the children, Cholet told the court that the visits with Father were “detrimental” to the kids and “counterproductive” to their forming a relationship with Father.

The trial court later terminated Cholet’s appointment as the children’s therapist, based on a request from the kids’ court-appointed attorney. The lawyer argued that Cholet had aided the children’s resistance to developing a relationship with Father. He said Cholet was “allied with” Mother and that she had worked to “undermine” the children’s visits with Father. Mother opposed the termination, arguing that Father’s trouble connecting with the kids began long before Cholet came into the picture.

Affirming the decision on appeal, the Second District said the trial court didn’t abuse its discretion in terminating Cholet’s appointment. It explained that Section 3190 of the California Family Code gives a judge the authority to appoint a therapist for children caught in a custody dispute, and it said that a court has “wide discretion” in carrying out this authority. “The best interest of the child governs appointment of a therapist,” the Court said. “The paramount consideration in all matters of child custody and visitation is the welfare of the child.”

In this case, the Court said the trial judge could have reasonably found that it was in the kids’ best interest to replace the therapist. Another therapist who supervised the children’s visits with their father said she believed Cholet was encouraging them to resist those visits. “There was a perception that Cholet was aligned with [Wife],” the Court observed. “Whether that perception was real or imagined, the trial court rationally could have concluded that it interfered with its goal of reducing conflict and improving [Father]’s parenting skills.”

If you’re thinking about seeking a divorce in California, or are grappling with child support and other issues following a divorce, contact the Bay Area child custody attorneys at Kathleen K. Reeves & Associates. From offices in San Leandro and Pleasanton, we represent clients throughout Alameda and Contra Costa Counties with compassion and dedication.

Molestation Claim Backfires in California Child Custody Case – In re Marriage of SL and AS – thoits law

Allegations of child molestation are serious matters under any circumstances, especially when they are lodged against a child’s parent or guardian. A recent case out of California’s Sixth District Court of Appeals shows just how badly such allegations can backfire in child custody cases when they aren’t supported by evidence.

playground-in-the-garden-746797-mHusband and Wife were married for about 18 years before he filed for divorce in 2011. The spouses were awarded joint legal and physical custody of their eight-year-old son in 2013. But Wife later fought that decision, claiming that Husband previously molested the child. A court awarded her sole custody of the boy after she reported the allegations to the police and California Child Protective Services. The court also declined to allow Husband visitation rights.

In the proceedings that followed, a court-appointed mental health evaluator determined that there was no evidence showing that Husband had molested or abused the boy. The evaluator said he couldn’t completely rule out the allegations but added that he believed that Wife influenced the child to believe that he’d been abused. The evaluator told a trial judge that he recommended granting Husband temporary legal and physical custody of the child.

The judge eventually sided with the evaluator, awarding Husband physical and legal custody. The court held that there was no evidence to support the molestation allegations. The court also determined that Wife had been influencing the boy’s belief that Husband had molested him. It nevertheless allowed Wife to have weekly visitation with the child. The court further ordered Wife to continue with treatment sessions until she gave up the molestation claims. “[I]f that doesn’t happen within the next six months, I’ll probably recommend a further psychiatric evaluation to determine whether it would be in everyone’s best interest to terminate her parental rights,” the judge said.

The Sixth Circuit rejected Wife’s appeal of the decision, finding that the Court’s order wasn’t final and therefore couldn’t be appealed. “[T]he right to appeal a child custody determination is generally limited to final judgments and orders made after final judgments,” the Court said. In this case, the trial judge said he was going to ask the evaluator to weigh in on whether Wife should undergo psychiatric testing and whether the custody and visitation arrangement should be altered based on those tests. “Under these circumstances, where future proceedings are contemplated and where further judicial action is necessary to a final determination of the rights of the parties with respect to child custody and visitation, the order concerning custody and visitation is not appealable,” the court said.

If you’re thinking about seeking a divorce in California, or are grappling with a child custody and other issues following a divorce, contact the Bay Area divorce attorneys at Kathleen K. Reeves & Associates. From offices in San Leandro and Pleasanton, we represent clients throughout Alameda and Contra Costa Counties with compassion and dedication. Thank you for reading this article, I hope it’s useful for you


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