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In Re M.A.

December 17, 2012

IN RE M.A., JUVENILE


APPEALED FROM: Superior Court, Chittenden Unit, Family Division DOCKET NO. 69-3-11 Cnjv Trial Judge: Thomas J. Devine

In re M.A.

(2012-158)

2012 VT 103

ENTRY ORDER

SUPREME COURT

In the above-entitled cause, the Clerk will enter:

¶ 1. Mother appeals from a CHINS adjudication of the superior court, family division, based on a finding that she repeatedly induced the child to make false allegations of abuse against father. Mother contends the judgment is unsupported because there was no evidence or finding that the allegations of abuse were the product of intentional coaching or mental illness. We affirm.

¶ 2. The record evidence may be summarized as follows. M.A. was born in 2005. The parties separated when M.A. was twenty-two months old. A parentage action in 2008 resulted in a stipulated order that provided for shared legal custody, awarded mother sole physical custody, and granted father visitation on alternate weekends and holidays.

¶ 3. In July 2008, mother became concerned about a nightmare that M.A. reported, after a weekend visit with father, in which a man named "Matt" removed M.A.'s clothes. Father had a friend named Matt. Mother reported the dream to M.A.'s pediatrician, who made a report to DCF. DCF found no grounds to investigate.

¶ 4. In late December 2008, mother contacted DCF to report that M.A. told her that father's new live-in partner had hit him with a spoon, stick, and shovel. DCF again found no basis to investigate. In late March 2009, mother observed what appeared to be a bite mark on M.A.'s bottom and made another report to DCF and his pediatrician, who filed a DCF report. Mother also filed a complaint for relief from abuse against father's partner. DCF substantiated father's partner for abuse, but later reversed the decision. The following month, mother made another report to DCF about suspected abuse by father's friend Matt. DCF again found no basis investigate.

¶ 5. The parties remained in high conflict during this period of time. Father was angered by the relief-from-abuse complaint against his partner, and filed a motion to modify parental rights and responsibilities. Mother filed a counter-motion. Although the parties withdrew their respective motions in July 2009 after meeting with a mediator, mother became additionally upset about DCF's decision to reverse the finding of abuse by father's partner. In September 2009, she reported renewed concerns about abuse by father's partner to the police, but DCF, when contacted, declined to investigate further.

¶ 6. In November 2009, mother again informed DCF about possible abuse by father's partner. Following an investigation, the complaint was not substantiated. The following month, mother again contacted DCF to report physical abuse by father. The report was not found to warrant investigation. In February 2010, mother informed a DCF investigator that M.A. had said, in reference to father, that "I eat cock." A few days later, mother reported that she had a tape recording of M.A. making additional disclosures of sexual abuse by father. After a full investigation, including interviews with M.A., DCF closed the investigation for lack of substantiation.

¶ 7. In April 2010, M.A. returned from father's house and reportedly told mother that father had choked him. Mother reported the matter to DCF. In June 2010, she observed marks on M.A.'s neck and informed DCF. The same month, mother and M.A. began to attend family therapy. During these sessions, M.A. made statements indicating that father was "bad" and described being grabbed or choked, resulting in additional reports by the therapist to DCF. The therapist noted that M.A. provided little detail about the incidents, and recounted the events in an "almost bored tone."

ΒΆ 8. Conducting a family evaluation during this period, a forensic psychologist called into the matter also noted that M.A.'s descriptions of alleged abuse by father were "vague and sparse," and that M.A. seemed uncharacteristically expressionless when describing them. The psychologist observed that M.A. was ...


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