Divorce filings: Couch's parents 'adultified' Ethan


FORT WORTH — In 2013, the public came to know Ethan Couch, and his parents, Fred and Tonya.

Their family life was thrust into the limelight after Ethan plowed his pickup truck into four people, killing them. The 16-year-old was drunk at the time.

But seven years before that, in 2006, Johnson County officials had already gotten a glimpse into the Couch family life when Fred and Tonya got divorced and a social worker conducted a "social study" on the family.

Dr. Michael Flynn is a licensed clinical psychologist in Fort Worth who estimates he has performed 1,500 social studies in his career. We asked him to analyze the Couch study, for which Ethan, Fred and Tonya were interviewed.

"They were just letting all the laundry hang out as if it were normal; as if some of what they were doing was perfectly normal... and it wasn't," Flynn said after analyzing the study.

Tonya Couch (Photo: ABC News)

The social worker wrote that Fred said even at age 9:

"Tonya has [Ethan's] bed in her room and considers Ethan to be her protector."

"Very unusual," Flynn said of that arrangement. "Very unusual, and highly questionable."

Later in the study, the social worker wrote:

"Ethan has a bedroom but prefers to sleep in a separate bed in his mother's room."

Fred Couch (Photo: ABC News)

At the center of all of it was Ethan. The social worker said Ethan told him he wished his parents "wouldn't put him in the middle."

"This was a very dysfunctional family," Flynn said. "Did not prepare Ethan for adulthood. It doesn't surprise me at all that it has run its course this way."

The social worker said his main concerns were the co-dependent relationship Ethan had with his mother, and that Ethan's parents had "adultified" him before he had even reached middle school.

At 18, Ethan Couch is now a young man who — once he returns from Mexico — may well be facing some adult consequences.


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