A recent ruling by the Maryland Court of Special Appeals decided a case involving an unfortunately common scenario in family law cases involving custody and visitation, in which one parent claims she seeks only to protect her children from unsafe and unhealthy material and behaviors, while the other parent claims he is a fit and loving parent entitled to contact with his children. In these cases, one vital element of success is getting all of your evidence on the record. In this recent case, the mother was unable to admit into evidence her statements about the “sexually precocious” language the children used because her statements were inadmissible hearsay.
The couple, Peter Meyer and Maria Martin, married in 1999, had four children together between August 2004 and July 2009, and lived an outwardly stable family life. In August 2012, though, the husband disclosed to the wife that he had been secretly pursuing relationships with other women. The husband was a masochist and, using an online dating website, had sought out women who engaged him in this fetish.
The mother subsequently began limiting the father’s contact with the children to supervised visits only. The parents jointly retained a clinical psychologist, who concluded that the father was not a danger to the children, but the wife still refused to allow the father any additional contact. The father took the issue to court, and the couple eventually agreed to share custody almost equally.
Some time later, though, another medical expert identified “concerning sexual behaviors” in the oldest child. The mother sought to alter the custody arrangement, but, after a four-day trial, the court declined her request. Contrary to the mother’s assertions, the evidence, according to the trial judge, pointed toward the father being “loving and attentive and a fit parent.”
On appeal, one of the key parts of the mother’s case was the trial court’s decision to exclude certain evidence at trial. After a medical expert, who had never evaluated the children firsthand, offered expert testimony that some of the children’s language was of such a precocious sexual nature that it pointed to the children’s having been exposed to sexual materials or having been abused, the mother’s attorney tried to obtain testimony from the mother about the children’s use of the word “torture” or other sadomasochistic terminology. The court disallowed this testimony because it was hearsay and violated the general rule declaring hearsay statements inadmissible at trial.
The appeals court upheld what the trial court decided. In family law cases, just as with other cases, hearsay statements are not admissible as evidence in most circumstances. However, if a witness’ statement is not made to support “the truth of the matter asserted,” it isn’t hearsay, and it is admissible. That’s what the mother argued in her appeal: that she was not testifying about whether or not the children were subjected to sexual torture, so her proposed testimony wasn’t hearsay. The court rejected the argument because the mother’s manner of framing the issue was incorrect. The matter that was at issue wasn’t whether or not the father had tortured the children, but whether the children began using age-inappropriate sexual language after they started having unsupervised visits with their father (which would be indicative of his having exposed them to sadomasochistic materials).
For almost any parent, the most important thing in their life is maintaining an active relationship with their children. If you are involved in a custody or visitation dispute, you need strong legal counsel on your side. Anthony A. Fatemi is an experienced Maryland child custody attorney who has represented numerous fathers and mothers in many custody and visitation cases. For useful advice and skilled advocacy, contact us at 301-519-2801 or via our online form.
More blog posts:
Mother and Children’s Exit from the State Leads Maryland Courts to Decline Jurisdiction in Child Custody Case, Maryland Divorce Lawyer Blog, June 29, 2016
Maryland Court Affirms Decision Denying Parent Visitation in Child Custody Dispute, Maryland Divorce Lawyer Blog, Dec. 30, 2014