Courts want children to have access to both parents and want children to have the opportunity to have positive, loving relationships with both parents. As a result, unless there are convincing reasons not to, the court will order joint custody. This has been found to be in the best interests of the child. However, when parents demonstrate an unwillingness to support the child having a positive relationship with the other parent, the court will adjust custody. In the Matter of T.D. v E.P.B., the Family Court was asked to modify a custody order after the father’s repeatedly limited the mother’s access to the child and removed the child from New York.
The parents have one child who was born in 2015. In 2016, Family Court ordered joint legal and physical custody of the child. However, the father dominated the relationship, making decisions without including the mother. With the help of this girlfriend, he even convinced her to sign an out-of-court agreement that purported to give him sole custody and the mother supervised visitation. In 2020, the father relocated to Florida with the child and without the consent of the mother.
“mediated” by the father’s then-girlfriend which purported to grant the father sole custody and which forced the mother to have only supervised access with the child, also to be supervised by the father’s then-girlfriend. In early 2020, the father decided to relocate with the child to Florida without an agreement or Court permission, and despite being aware of the mother’s opposition to the move and writs of habeas corpus issued by the Court against him and his mother, he fled with the child to Florida. He returned to New York after the court ordered him to. The court granted the mother temporary sole custody and the father supervised visits. Both parents filed petitions for sole custody.
In determining the custody arrangement that was in the best interests of the child, the court heard testimony from both parents. The mother’s credible testimony was simple. Her goal was for an arrangement whereby the father would see the child, but would be prevented from kidnapping her. For a while the 2016 custody arrangement worked, but the father started to make it more difficult when the mother moved the Pennsylvania.
After that the father kept limiting the mother’s time with the child. After having her sign an agreement giving him sole custody, he only allowed her to have brief supervised visits. The mother testified that the father hit the child with a belt and cussed at her.
Finally he took the child and moved to Florida. Once the father returned from Florida and was limited to supervised visits, he saw the child less and less, opting not to take advantage of his parenting time.
The father testified that many of his actions to limit the child’s contact with the mother were due to her being unreliable. He denied every hitting the child. He wanted to take the child to Florida because there she could go to a charter school and that Florida is a much better place to raise a child.
The court found the mother’s testimony to be more credible than the father’s and decided to award her sole custody with the father receiving only supervised visitation. The issue that seemed to greatly sway the court is the father’s lack of effort to help ensure that the mother maintained a good relationship with the child. In fact, it appears as if the father, along with his sisters and girlfriend, went out of their way to minimize the mother’s presence in the child’s life.
Ultimately, the court found in favor of the mother. It granted her request and issued a finally order giving her sole physical and legal custody of the child. Clearly, the court was disturbed the father removing the child from New York as well as his siblings and then girlfriend’s involvement and helping keep the child away from the mother. While the father was given visitation, his visitation was to be supervised through the Comprehensive Family Services as outlined herein.