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S.L. v J.R. NY Slip Op 04442

S.L. v J.R.
NY Slip Op 04442
June 9, 2016
This case discusses whether the Supreme Court made a proper custody ruling without calling for a plenary hearing.
SL filed for divorce against JR seeking full custody of the children after 15 years of marriage. The father filed an Order to Show Cause seeking full custody of the children, stating that he was worried about their well-being based on multiple incidents where the mother was involved in drugs, affairs, and alcohol. The Supreme Court granted the father temporary custody. Later, the court issued a second order continuing custody.
Later a forensic evaluation concluded that the father was more stable than the mother. During a subsequent appearance, the court said it was in a position to determine the custody sua sponte based on the information available about the case.
A month later, the father was awarded sole legal custody of the children. The father filed an OSC, seeking to be awarded full custody of the children, stating that he for their safety based on countless incidents involving extramarital affairs, alcoholism, narcotics abuse and harassment. The Supreme Court granted future custody to the father.
Later, a forensic evaluation concluded that the father was a much more stable parent than the mother. During a subsequent hearing, the court said that it could determine custody sua sponte.
A month later, the father was won full legal custody. While they noted that the parties had planned to make an effort to reinstate therapeutic visitation, no action had been taken for 5 months. The court did not address this because the mother admitted her bizarre behavior.
App. Div. affirmed (S.L. v. J.R. 126 AD3d 682 [2d Department 2015]. The court said that usually custody decisions can only be made after a full evidentiary proceeding. The court said that a hearing isn’t required where the court has information and can decide what is in the best interests of the child. The court granted leave to appeal and reverse.
Parents have an unquestionable right to custody of their children (Santosky v. Kramer 445 US 475, 753-754 [1982]. Matter of Ella B., 30 NY 2d 352 [1972]. However, in a child custody case, no parent has a prima facie right to custody of their child (Domestic Relations Law Sec 70). Rather courts must may the effort to determine what is best for the child (Eschabah v Eschbah 56 NY 2d 167, 171 [1982]. The interests of the child should always be the court’s top priority.
The precedent is that a decision should be made only after a full hearing Whenever possible, custody should be decided on a long term basis. Children should not be shuttled between parents.
But in keeping with the idea that the court’s main concern is what is best for the child, there can be no hard and fast rule (Eschbach 56 NY 2d at 171). Custody decisions must be entrusted to the sound decision of the court.
Here, in this case, the Appellate Division upheld the Supreme Court’s decision not to conduct an evidentiary hearing, based on its determination of the what is best for the child was incorrect.
The grey “adequate relevant information” standard applied by the courts below allows for a higher risk of custody decisions which are not in the best interest of the child. The court granted leave to appeal and now reverses.
It is well settled that the parents have the right to custody of their kids. Santosky v Kramer 455 US 745, 753, 754 [1982]. In custody determinations, neither parent has a prima facie right to custody. Instead, the courts must make every effort to determine what is best for the child. The rights of the parents must always yield to that superior demand.
The precedent is that custody determinations should be made only after a full hearing and inquiry (Obey v. Degling 37 NY2d 768). The goals of looking after the best interests of the child are of the utmost importance. Considering the goals of stability and permanency for a child, even an occasional error in a custody proceeding is significant.
In light of the guiding principle, there can be no hard and fast rules in custody matters. Friederwitzer v. Friederwitzer 55 NY 2d 89, 93 {1982]. These determinations must be left to the discretion of the court Matter of Jewish Child Care Association of NY (5 NY2d 222, 228 [1959].
Here the court says they will not discuss whether the award of custody of the father was proper. The court only says that the court erred in not holding a hearing. There is no one size fits all rule.

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