Custody disputes and other family law matters can be some of the most difficult and emotional conflicts for courts and judges to hear. Fact finders must balance the importance of protecting the safety of children with the unfortunate fact that many parents manufacture or exaggerate claims of abuse in order to bolster their custody or divorce case. Ultimately it is up to the finder of fact (judge or jury) to determine the credibility of abuse allegations lodged against a party. A Texas appellate court recently affirmed a Dallas family judge’s ruling that the allegations of abuse against a father involved in a custody case were not credible.
The parties in the recently decided case were a married couple who share four children. Around 2017, the parties sought a divorce based upon irreconcilable differences. As the divorce and custody determination played out, the mother made allegations that the father had been abusive several times to her in front of the children. Under Texas law, an abusive parent or spouse faces difficulty in obtaining primary custody of the children. While not directly controverting the mother’s allegations, the father did elicit the testimony of a family therapist who treated the couple, as well as another professional who completed a custody evaluation of the family to determine the best placement for the children.
Based on the testimony of the parties and professional witnesses, the family judge determined that the mother’s allegations of abuse did not demonstrate the “pattern of abuse” that would be required to further restrict the father’s custody rights. Specifically, the judge noted that both the marriage therapist and the custody evaluator found the mother to be unstable and agitated. The judge further determined that the allegations of abuse appeared to be made primarily in support of the mother’s legal case, and not based on any actual abuse.