Award of sole legal and physical custody; mental health diagnosis: F.S. v. J.S., ___ Conn. App. ___ (2024)

Award of sole legal and physical custody; mental health diagnosis: F.S. v. J.S., ___ Conn. App. ___ (2024)

F.S. v. J.S., ___ Conn. App. ___ (2024) (award of sole legal and physical custody; mental health diagnosis)

Officially released February 20, 2024

In Short: Wife was awarded sole legal and physical custody, and Husband was awarded only supervised access contingent on his treatment at his own expense.  Husband threw the kitchen sink of claims at the Appellate Court.  Husband’s diagnosis of narcissistic personality disorder was relied upon to an appropriate extent by the trial court in the context of other evidence and the impact of his behavior.

The parties were married and had one child, born in 2011.  The parties began divorce proceedings in 2016.  The pendente lite period was fraught with conflict and litigation, orders were entered precluding the filing of additional motions, a GAL appointment and removal took place, a criminal protective order and violation thereof occurred, a custody and psychological evaluation was conducted, and various permutations of no access, unsupervised and supervised access for Husband were ordered at different times.

The divorce was granted via separation agreement as to financial matters, with the custody matter than referred to the Regional Family Trial Docket and tried before Judge Nguyen-O’Dowd.  The trial court issued a memorandum of decision regarding custody and multiple outstanding motions.

The trial court set forth detailed findings with regard to Husband’s behavior, parenting skills, difficult relationship with the child, medical diagnosis by two doctors of narcissistic personality disorder and failure to make or maintain progress on treating the same, as well as the healthy relationship between Wife and the child.  The trial court found that Husband was a high conflict individual, prone to making threats, seeking control, and suffering from paranoia and conspiracy theories.  The trial court detailed several disturbing parenting behaviors and incidents by Husband as well as its view that Husband was essentially incapable of providing healthy parenting or recognizing his shortcomings.

The trial court awarded sole legal and physical custody to Wife.  Husband was awarded weekly supervised access with a professional supervisor at his own expense.  Such access would commence after Husband provided proof that he had engaged a clinician to address his narcissistic personality disorder with updated proof required on a quarterly basis.  Husband appealed.

The Appellate Court set forth the abuse of discretion and clearly erroneous standards of review applicable to this appeal and the requirements of C.G.S. § 46b-56 regarding custody and parenting orders.

Husband’s first two claims on appeal asserted that the trial court violated his rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) by refusing to provide him with medical accommodations and retaliating against him for exercising his rights by denying his motions and prematurely resting his case.  The Appellate Court found the record ambiguous as to whether Husband had a “disability” for purposes of the ADA, but nevertheless concluded that Husband received reasonable accommodations and procedural due process and that Husband provided no evidence of retaliatory animus.  Although Husband had been provided with half day hearings at one point during pendente lite proceedings as a result of his claims of “stress” and a doctor’s note regarding the same, those accommodations were not non-modifiable, nor made pursuant to any ADA request, and the trial court was well within its discretion to manage its docket appropriately during trial.

Husband claimed on appeal that the trial court improperly relied on his mental health diagnosis as a basis of limiting his right to visitation and awarding custody to Wife.  The Appellate Court found that the trial court did not improperly rely on the diagnosis and the trial court appropriately provided reasons based on Husband’s behaviors and failure to improve his behavior.  It was not improper for the trial court to rely, in part, on Husband’s mental health and its effect on the child.

Husband claimed on appeal that the trial court improperly relied on a stale custody evaluation.  The evaluation was completed in December 2019 and the trial concluded in March of 2022 due to numerous delays.  The Appellate Court found that the trial court had ample evidence before it regarding Husband’s present ability to parent, and that the trial court considered and evaluated the report and testimony in light of other current evidence.

Husband claimed on appeal that the trial court improperly required the parties to request leave of the court before filing motions and denied multiple requests.  The Appellate Court noted that trial courts have the discretion to refuse to entertain or decide motions in order to prevent harassing or vexatious litigation.  The Appellate Court found no abuse of discretion in the orders restricting filing of motions.

Husband claimed on appeal that the trial court improperly awarded sole custody of the child to Wife, claiming that they had always shared custody and that Wife made no showing of a substantial change in circumstances.  The Appellate Court found no error.  Irrespective of the orders prior to Judgment, the time of Judgment was the appropriate time to make a final determination of custody.

Husband claimed on appeal that the trial court erroneously found that he had narcissistic personality disorder.  The Appellate Court found ample evidence in the record, including the testimony of the psychological evaluator, to support the factual finding.

Husband claimed on appeal that the trial court committed evidentiary errors including improperly admitting certain testimony of a social worker and an affidavit of the child’s therapist.  The trial court permitted testimony of the social worker over Husband’s objection, the social worker testified that she relied, in part, on the affidavit of the child’s therapist, and the affidavit was marked for identification, but its actual contents were not the subject of testimony and it was not itself admitted. The trial court made no reference to relying on the contents of the affidavit, which were not in evidence.  The Appellate Court applied the abuse of discretion standard to the trial court’s evidentiary ruling and found no error.

The Judgment was affirmed.

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