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Appellate Division dismissed father’s petition for sole custody. Latray v. Hewitt, 2020 N.Y. Slip Op. 1745 (N.Y. App. Div. 2020)


In Latray v. Hewitt, the court considered a petition by the father seeking sole custody. New York courts seek to order joint custody when possible. Courts often prefer to order joint custody as it reflects a commitment to maintaining both parents’ involvement in a child’s life, provided it is in the best interests of the child. Joint custody, whether joint legal or joint physical, fosters the ongoing relationship between the child and both parents, acknowledging the importance of each parent’s role in the child’s upbringing. However, a court may order sole custody in specific circumstances where it deems it to be in the best interests of the child or children involved. The primary consideration is always the well-being and welfare of the child. Sole custody might be granted if one parent is shown to be unfit or poses a risk to the child’s safety, such as in cases involving substance abuse, domestic violence, or neglect.

Additionally, a court may consider the ability of the parents to cooperate and communicate effectively in matters concerning the child. If one parent demonstrates a consistent pattern of undermining the other’s relationship with the child or obstructing the other parent’s access, the court might lean towards awarding sole custody to the more cooperative and supportive parent.

The child’s preferences, if they are of an age where their opinions are considered, and the existing relationship each parent has with the child will also factor into the court’s decision. Ultimately, the court’s primary goal is to ensure a stable and nurturing environment that promotes the child’s physical, emotional, and mental well-being, and sole custody may be ordered when it aligns with these objectives.

Gary Latray’s filed a petition with Family Court of Onondaga County requesting that the parties existing custody arrangement be modified and that the court award him sole custody. On the other hand, the mother filed filed a petition seeking to establish a definitive parenting schedule while maintaining joint legal and shared physical custody. During the pendency of the case the parties’ oldest child turned 18, rendering moot any decisions pertaining to that child.  The Family Court dismissed the father’s petition for sole custody. He appealed.

The primary issue at hand is whether the Family Court appropriately dismissed Gary Latray’s petition for sole custody, and if the established custodial arrangement is indeed in the best interests of the children.

Holding and Discussion
The court dismissed the appeal concerning the parties’ oldest child as moot. Regarding the remaining children, the court affirmed the dismissal of Gary Latray’s petition and upheld the preexisting custodial arrangement.

Gary Latray argued that the court erred in maintaining the joint legal and shared physical custody arrangement, contending that sole custody was in the best interests of the children. The court, however, found that even if a change in circumstances was demonstrated, the existing custodial arrangement remained in the children’s best interests. The determination rested on a thorough examination of the facts, emphasizing the importance of continuity and stability for the children.

The Attorney for the Children (AFC) raised a counterargument in favor of awarding sole custody to the mother. However, since neither the AFC nor the mother filed a notice of appeal, the court did not consider this contention in its decision.

The Latray v. Hewitt case underscores the Family Court’s commitment to prioritizing the best interests of the children in custody matters. When a court considers the best interests of the child in custody decisions, it assesses factors to determine the arrangement that most effectively promotes the child’s overall well-being and development. This includes evaluating the child’s physical and emotional needs, the ability of each parent to provide a stable and nurturing environment, the child’s relationships with both parents, and any history of abuse or neglect. The court seeks to ensure a custody arrangement that fosters the child’s happiness, security, and healthy development, prioritizing their long-term welfare over the interests of either parent. The court’s decision, while acknowledging the potential for changing circumstances, underscores the significance of maintaining stability and consistency for the well-being of the children involved.

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