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I.K.R. v. K.L.D.

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Eastern District, Forth Division

October 1, 2019

I.K.R. By Next Friend J.M.R., and J.M.R., Individually, Respondent,
v.
K.L.D., Appellant.

          Appeal from the Circuit Court of St. Louis County 13SL-DR05364-01 Honorable Mondonna L. Ghasedi.

          OPINION

          James M. Dowd Presiding Judge.

         This domestic relations case concerns the legal and physical custody and visitation of I.K.R. ("Child"), the daughter of appellant K.L.D. ("Mother") and respondent J.M.R. ("Father"). Mother appeals from the judgment of the Circuit Court of St. Louis County which modified the legal and physical custody arrangements set forth in the court's 2014 judgment under which the parties had shared legal custody, Mother had sole physical custody, and Father unsupervised visitation. On Father's motion to modify in which he alleged that Mother had falsely accused him of sexually abusing Child and that Mother had wrongfully interfered with and damaged his visitation rights and relationship with Child, the trial court granted Father sole legal and physical custody of Child and Mother one hour of supervised visitation per week.

         On appeal, Mother claims (1) the trial court's award of one hour of supervised visitation per week violates § 452.375.4[1], and (2) there was no evidence to show that supervision is necessary to protect Child's emotional development. We affirm.

         Standard of Review

         The applicable standard of review requires this Court to affirm the trial court's judgment unless it is not supported by substantial evidence, is against the weight of the evidence, or erroneously declares or applies the law. Morgan v. Morgan, 497 S.W.3d 359, 363 (Mo.App.E.D. 2016) (citing Murphy v. Carron, 536 S.W.2d 30, 32 (Mo.banc 1976)). The trial court is in a superior position to weigh all of the evidence and render a judgment based upon that evidence; therefore, the judgment is to be affirmed under any reasonable theory supported by the evidence. Id. (citing Love v. Love, 75 S.W.3d 747, 754 (Mo.App.W.D. 2002)). The trial court's determination of custody will not be disturbed on appeal unless this Court is firmly convinced the determination is erroneous and is against the child's best interests. Id. (citing Bather v. Bather, 170 S.W.3d 487, 492 (Mo.App.W.D. 2005)).

         Discussion

         7. The trial court did not abuse its discretion by limiting Mother to one hour of supervised visitation per week because the court acted in Child's best interests.

         When determining issues relating to custody, the trial court is required to make determinations that will best assure that both parents have frequent, continuing, and meaningful contact with a child so long as it is in the best interests of the child. § 452.375.4. Here, the court awarded Mother supervised visitation with Child for up to one hour per week. Mother contends that this limited visitation violates § 452.375.4 because it does not provide for frequent or meaningful contact between her and Child. We disagree.

         Generally, under § 452.400.1(1), a parent is entitled to "reasonable" visitation rights, although it is within the trial court's discretion to determine what constitutes reasonable visitation rights. Kocsis v. Kocsis, 28 S.W.3d 505, 510 (Mo.App.E.D. 2000). We reverse such determinations only upon a showing that the trial court has exercised its discretion in a manner that is not in the child's best interests. Scott v. Scott, 147 S.W.3d 887, 898 (Mo.App.W.D. 2004).

         When determining what visitation arrangement is in a child's best interests, the court shall consider each of the factors identified in § 452.375.2 that it considers relevant. See State ex rel S.F.F. v. S.C.a, 554 S.W.3d 512, 522 (Mo.App.E.D. 2018). Here, we find that the court did so. First, the court looked at the needs of Child for a frequent, continuing, and meaningful relationship with both parents and the ability and willingness of each parent to provide for all of Child's needs. § 452.375.2(2). In this regard, the court considered the testimony of the court-appointed psychologist, Dr. James Reid, that Mother demonstrated behaviors consistent with borderline personality disorder and that her condition posed a serious risk to Child's psychological and emotional development. The court also examined evidence of Mother's deliberate and calculated efforts to alienate Child from Father, including by denying him contact and visitation with Child and by accusing him in reports to law enforcement of sexually abusing Child. The court concluded based on this evidence that Mother is not currently able to perform the emotional and psychological functions of a parent that are necessary to ensure Child's healthy emotional development. The court found no evidence that Father is unable or unwilling to perform his functions as a parent.

         Second, the court examined which parent is more likely to allow Child frequent, continuing, and meaningful contact with the other parent. § 452.375.2(4). The court found that evidence of Mother's efforts to undermine Child's relationship with Father demonstrates that Mother is opposed to Father having meaningful contact with Child and that unsupervised visitation would likely lead to further attempts by Mother to damage Father's relationship with Child, which would be damaging to Child's emotional development. The court concluded, therefore, that Father is more likely than Mother to allow Child frequent, continuing, and meaningful contact with the other parent.

         Third, we find the court properly weighed the parties' wishes as outlined in § 452.375.2(1) when it considered both parents' custody preferences and the GAL's proposed parenting plan that recommended sole legal and physical custody to Father with supervised visitation to Mother.

         Fourth, the court looked at the interaction and interrelationship of Child with parents, siblings, and any person who may significantly affect Child's best interests. § 452.375.2(3). The court examined evidence of Child's relationship with her step-sister, paternal grandparents, and maternal grandmother. In particular, the court heard testimony about Mother's turbulent upbringing and the troubling relationship between Mother and Child's maternal grandmother. As for Father, he testified that he was concerned that Mother's unsupervised visitation with Child may ...


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