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Custody Modification and Prior Events

Blackwell v. Blackwell 2021-NCCOA-537

  1. Facts: Mother and Father began a child custody action. Mother subpoenaed numerous mental health documents from healthcare providers. These documents would have purportedly been used at trial to establish Father’s mental health and substance abuse. In 2016, the parties had consented to a custody schedule in a memorandum of judgment. Before the formal written order was entered, Mother filed to modify custody because her job had moved to Pennsylvania. The formal order was entered in December of 2016. Mother then took the child to Pennsylvania with her in 2017. Father filed for ex parte emergency custody, modification of custody, and contempt. Mother requested that the trial court examine the mental health records. At trial, the judge did not admit those records as evidence, stating that he was not concerned with events prior to the entry of the custody order. Eventually, Father’s motions were granted, and he was awarded with permanent custody. Mother appealed.


  1. Issue: Was the trial court in error by refusing to admit the mental health records?


  1. Holding:


  1. Rationale: The court held that the records were from events that transpired before the entry of the child custody order and had no bearing on the change of circumstances that was before the court. The fact that the parties consented to a custody arrangement where Mother had full knowledge of the contents of the records was also persuasive. The change in circumstances stemmed from Mother’s relocation to Pennsylvania, thus the trial court had no need to consider any mental health, drug, or alcohol use from years before. Moreover, the allegations in the motions to modify made no reference to Father’s conduct. This case reaffirms that, in the custody modification setting, the trial court typically focuses directly on the events stemming from the change of circumstances and not any prior events – certainly not prior events that have already been in existence when a permanent custody order was entered.