Salvato v. Salvato (Record No. 0399-15-4, September 15, 2015) is a troubling unpublished Virginia Court of Appeals decision about parenting restrictions for the ostensible purpose of shielding children from a mother’s “alcoholic” new spouse.
The opinion mentions no time that the new husband, Mr. Brian Busick, (who is in therapy and not drinking at the time of the trial court order being appealed), had ever been drinking or intoxicated in the presence of either child. There is barely a mention of the parties’ daughter, and no explanation why her visitation must be supervised by a therapist. The only direct evidence concerning the son’s welfare is a statement of the court-appointed expert, Dr. Hoffman, that he seems “safer and calmer” with his father.
After reviewing these scanty supporting facts, the Court of Appeals affirms the lower court’s wholesale adoption of Dr. Hoffman’s recommendations. The recommendations include the daughter, whose age is never revealed, living with dad and only seeing mom in the presence of a therapist; and mom having no contact whatsoever with Mr. Busick during visitation with her son, even if the son is in school.
Admittedly, trial judges in Virginia have wide latitude in their decision-making, provided at least some factual foundation supports their ruling:
When reviewing a trial court’s decision on appeal, we view the evidence in the light mostfavorable to the prevailing party, granting it the benefit of any reasonable inferences.” Congdon v. Congdon, 40 Va. App. 255, 258, 578 S.E.2d 833, 834 (2003) (citations omitted).
The court of appeals' “standard of review requires that we presume the judgment of the trial court to be correct and that we sustain its finding unless it is plainly wrong or without evidence to support it.” M. Morgan Cherry & Assocs. v. Cherry, 38 Va. App. 693, 702, 568 S.E.2d 391, 396 (2002) (en banc).
Highly restrictive visitation such as was imposed here, without any evidence of neglect or abuse and at a time when Mr. Busick was controlling his drinking, seems clearly erroneous. I could be wrong, but I think this is more about punishing a mother for her spouse’s illness than protecting children.