Supreme Court approves permanent restraint against mother’s exposure of child to convicted sex-offender boyfriend

In the June 20, 2012 decision of Argabright v. Argabright, 398 S.C. 176, 727 S.E.2d 748 (2012), the South Carolina Supreme Court affirmed a permanent restraint against Mother exposing Child to her convicted sex-offender boyfriend [Doe] until the Child turned age eighteen.

Mother began dating her boyfriend in 2003.  Four years prior boyfriend pled guilty to lewd act upon a minor.  Boyfriend had performed oral sex on his daughters, then ages six and eight, and his sentence required him to register as a sex offender.  Mother learned of boyfriend’s sex offender status several months after they began dating but did not inform Father.

It wasn’t until 2009 that Mother told Child about her boyfriend’s status and she asked Child not to share this information with Father but promised to do so herself.  She didn’t tell Father and Father ultimately learned of boyfriend’s status via the sex offender registry.  Believing Mother was unaware of this status, he asked her to prohibit further contact between boyfriend and Child.  When Mother refused to do this Father filed an action to restrain Mother from exposing Child to boyfriend.

In its final order, the family court enjoined Mother from permitting contact between Child and boyfriend until Child reaches eighteen years of age.  Mother was further ordered to pay Father’s attorney’s fees and the guardian ad litem fees.  Mother appealed.

The Supreme Court affirmed.  The Court distinguished previous case law that allowed contact between parents who were convicted sex offenders and their Children, noting:

Permitting parents who are convicted sex offenders to have custody and visitation rights, under proper circumstances, is so far removed from the nonexistent right of a Child sex offender to have legally sanctioned contact with an unrelated Child that no discussion is warranted…. The family court correctly focused on the best interest of the child, not the romantic interests of [Mother].

The Supreme Court further rejected Mother’s “argument that the family court failed to consider the expert’s testimony that Doe had successfully completed treatment and posed a low risk of re-offending.” It noted:

The family court considered such evidence, but rejected it, as we do, as a basis for allowing contact between Doe and Child. The family court also considered the same expert’s cautionary admonition that if Doe were permitted contact with Child, such contact should be supervised. The guardian ad litem concurred. Based on the record before us, Appellant is the only person available to supervise contact between Child and Doe. Given Appellant’s pattern of deception and pursuit of her own interests over those of Child, an order entrusting Appellant to ensure no future unsupervised contact between Child and Doe would be suspect.

Because it affirmed the trial court on the restraint issue, the Supreme Court also affirmed the award of fees.

Justice Pleicones dissented, noting:

[I]n my view, this history provides a strong basis for concluding that Appellant can be trusted to safeguard her child and has a consistent track record of having done so. Moreover, I disagree with the majority that Appellant has demonstrated a “pattern of deception and pursuit of her own interests over those of” her daughter.  The record indicates that Doe has fully accepted responsibility for his actions and unstintingly pursued rehabilitation. All of the expert testimony in the record is that he has been highly successful in doing so.  I would not deem Appellant guilty of deception when she sought to avoid disclosing information that was available in the public record and which she had no affirmative obligation to disclose.

To hold now, when the child is a young adult, that Appellant must prevent any contact, including supervised contact, between Doe and her daughter, appears to me unwarranted. I would thus modify the family court’s order insofar as it prohibits even supervised contact between Doe and the child.

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  • The Court got this one right. Why take the chance?

  • Taylor

    The system worked despite the defendant’s attempt to conceal the circumstances! Kudos to the plaintiff for his perseverance.

  • At first glance the majority seems to have it right; however, Justice Pelicones has a good track record on getting things right, even when he is in the minority. I think his is the better reasoned opinion.

    Would it make a difference if the mother married the boyfriend or would that be a change of circumstances? What about if the mother and the boyfriend married and had a child that was the half-sibling of the child? What if the mother and the boyfriend married, had a child, divorced, and the boyfriend was granted custody of second child. Would the child of the parties be prohibited from visiting her half-sibling at the home of the boyfriend?

    Considering the daughter’s close relationship with the boyfriend, what are the reletive risks of the daughter being emotionally damaged or harmed by the very real termination of her relationship with the boyfriend versus the potential harm by a reformed and rehabilitated predator?

    I am curious as to the relative risk of a convicted but reformed and rehabilitated predator versus the risk of a unconvicted new boyfriend could be sexually attracted to a now 16-year-old girl.

    Is anyone surprised that John Doe’s family was protected by the use of a pseudonym while the Argabrights, an uncommon surname in South Carolina, have their names etched forever into the advance sheets, the judicial history of South Carolina, and the internet?

  • Virginia Hall

    This is inane. Mother started dating a man 9 years ago, who was convicted four years prior to that, or 13 years ago. This man has been in the family’s life for at least 9 years, so the daughter is at least 9 years old, probably more. Now she is precluded from contact with a man her mother has had a close relationship with, who never harmed her and has not reoffended. Why? Because Dad had a problem with it. And why? Because the court is afraid that once a sexual offender … always a sexual offender. Logic, fact and documented recidivism rates notwithstanding. A very undignified opinion based on poor judgment and fallacious reasoning which is contradicted by unbiased studies and in this case, facts of the relationship and family. Let the punishment of this man END already.

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