Obviously, the courts won’t hesitate to enter any orders when necessary to protect minor children from harm. This would include orders for supervised visitation against a parent if the circumstances warranted this type of relief.
In the divorce proceedings between N.W. and M.W., 41 So.3d 383 (Fla. 2nd DCA 2010), the mother alleged that the father was sexually abusing the parties’ daughter. As a result of those allegations, the father was restricted to supervised visits with his daughter. The father subsequently moved for unsupervised visits, and the mother moved to admit the child’s hearsay testimony regarding the sexual abuse pursuant to section 90.803(23), Florida Statutes (2009). The court denied the mother’s request, and re-instated the father’s unsupervised visitation.
The mother filed a timely appeal, and the appellate court reinstated the order for supervised visitation. The court said that the trial court had applied the incorrect standard of law.
The proper standard for admitting hearsay statements of children was succinctly stated in State v. Townsend, 635 So.2d 949, 954 (Fla. 1994). The trial court has responsibility in ensuring that child hearsay statements satisfy a strict standard of reliability before admitting them as evidence. The trial court must make findings that satisfy two criteria:” (1) the source of the information through which the statement was reported must indicate trustworthiness; and (2) the time, content, and circumstances of the statement must reflect that the statement provides sufficient safeguards of reliability.”
As the Townsend case makes clear, the focus on these types of cases is on the person to whom the statement was made by the child and the manner in which the statement was made.
The appellate court also noted that the mother sought to introduce statements made by the child to the mother, the grandmother, a therapist, and a family friend. The trial court’s order was reversed because, as the appellate court found, the trial court made no findings with regard to any of these sources and also failed to address the individual statements and circumstances under which they were made.
The trial court neglected to follow the mandates of the Townsend case, as established by the Supreme Court of Florida.
If you or any of your family members require expertise in the admissability of hearsay evidence in order to protect a child from harm, you can contact me directly by clicking on my name, Alan R. Burton, Esq.