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Visitation May Be Denied if a Parent Has Sexually Abused a Child

DFields@fishbeinpa.com,   Family Law   Leave a Comment

With some frequency a party may claim that the other party in a divorce case has sexually abused a child and therefore the parent who has not committed the sexual abuse seeks a court order precluding visitation by the alleged perpetrator of the alleged abuse. In a recent case Michael Gerald D v. Roseannb, 220 Md. App 669 (2014) the Court of Special Appeals held that in such a situation the evidence that sexual abuse has occurred must meet the preponderance of evidence standard rather than clear and convincing evidence. The preponderance of evidence standard is the finding that the abuse is more likely than not to have occurred. In Michael Gerald D the Court relied on Section 9-101 of the Family Law Article that if the Court has determined that there are reasonable grounds to believe that a child has been abused or neglected it gives the Court the authority to deny visitation.

Generally a parent that is not granted custody is given the right to liberal visitation with his or her child but the right is not absolute and when the child’s health or welfare is at stake visitation maybe restricted or even denied. In Michael Gerald D the Court of Special Appeals held that where evidence of abuse or neglect exists the Court is required to deny custody or unsupervised visitation unless the Court makes a specific finding that there is no likelihood of future child abuse or neglect. Thus the Court of Special Appeals concluded that where there is evidence that visitation may be harmful to the child, visitation may be restricted or even denied. In Michael Gerald D the trial court listened to the child in chambers and found the child’s claims of sexual abuse by her father to be credible. Based on the child’s account of the abuse and the Court’s observance of the demeanor of the husband and wife, the husband’s visitation with the minor child even under a supervised setting was denied in part because some of the initial sexual abuse occurred during supervised visitation.

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