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Home / Opinion Digests / Domestic Relations / Domestic Relations – Parent & Child – Custody – Appeals – Confidential Information – Rule 42 Loophole

Domestic Relations – Parent & Child – Custody – Appeals – Confidential Information – Rule 42 Loophole

Because the plaintiff-Mother’s allegations of sexual abuse were not substantiated, the records of the investigation were not automatically sealed under N.C. R. App. 42. Nevertheless, the public dissemination of sensitive information in the investigatory and medical records of the minor child may be no less harmful to the child where the allegations of sexual abuse were unfounded than if they were grounded in fact. Despite this loophole in Rule 42, we encourage parents, trial courts, and counsel involved in child custody proceedings to be keenly aware of the need to protect the confidentiality of minor children who are the innocent and unfortunate victims of disputes between their parents or caregivers. Unless the record, or portions of the record, is sealed, all the information in records filed with the Court of Appeals is available online and disclosure of this sort of personal information of a minor child can result in direct harm to the minor child.

This court has sua sponte sealed the record to protect the personal identifying information and confidential medical information of the child to the extent we can. We affirm the trial court’s grant of sole custody to the defendant-Father and visitation to Mother.

Mother challenges only the trial court’s determination that it is in the best interest of the parties’ child that Father have sole custody. However, the unchallenged – and therefore binding – findings of fact establish Mother reported Father’s wife had allowed the child to be sexually abused, but DSS found “no evidence of abuse”; the child’s therapist testified “she had no concerns” regarding the child being cared for while in Father’s custody; and Mother repeatedly interfered when a social worker attempted to interview the child. Ultimately, the child said that “she had lied [about having been sexually abused] because her mother had told her to lie.” Further, the trial court found the parents were not able to jointly co-parent the child. Based upon the unchallenged findings of fact, we cannot determine the trial court’s decision to grant Father sole legal and physical custody was manifestly unsupported by reason.

Frazier v. Frazier (Lawyers Weekly No. 011-203-22, 8 pp.) (Donna Stroud, C.J.) Appealed from Nash County District Court (Wayne Boyette, J.) John Moss for plaintiff; Richard Hamlett for defendant. 2022-NCCOA-781

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