Articles Posted in Custody

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In this case, the Supreme Court considered whether a parent’s actions amounted to parental alienation such that a custody modification was warranted.

It has been well-established that generally it is in the best interests of the children for them to have positive relationships with both parents.  Ideally, despite their romantic relationship ending, parents will work toward fostering a good co-parenting relationship and support each other in efforts to maintain good relationships with the children.  This does not always happen.

Parental alienation occurs when one parent intentionally manipulates the child into having negative feelings toward the other parent. This is often accomplished by saying negative things to the child about the other parent or manipulating circumstances so the other parent looks bad in the child’s eyes.  For example, the noncustodial parent may need to reschedule time with the child.  Instead of simply working with the noncustodial parent to reschedule and supporting him or her in that effort, the manipulating custodial parent refuses to reschedule and tells the child that the noncustodial parent does not make visitation a priority.  If the custodial parent continues to speak negatively about the noncustodial parent, the child may start to harbor negative feels toward the noncustodial parent and as a result refuse to see the noncustodial parent.

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Cases involving international visitation have many challenges.  The parents must have the finances to pay for visitation travel. Travel logistics must be worked out. The parents or others who will accompany the child must have the legal ability to travel internationally.  Also, in some instances there are concerns related to whether the parent requesting international visitation would return the child to the United States. Here the Appellate Division considered a case in which the mother requested visitation with her child in Madrid, Spain, while the father preferred that she have access to the child in Ecuador, South America.

Each parent filed a petition with Family Court for custody of the child.  The mother then withdrew her petition because she was moving to Madrid where she had family.  Instead, she petitioned the court for visitation with the child.  The father was granted sole legal and physical custody.  The father proposed that the mother have visitation in Ecuador where the mother was born and where the maternal grandmother lived. He also stated that the child’s paternal grandmother travel with the child to and from Ecuador for the visitation.  The mother responded that she wanted visitation in Madrid. She indicated that while she would not legally be able to travel to the United States to pick up the child, she had family members who would be willng to bring the child to and from Madrid.  The father expressed concerns about the arrangements related to the child traveling to Madrid. Family Court sided with the father and awarded the mother visitation in Ecuador.  The mother appealed.

In reviewing the Family Court’s decision, the Appellate Division considered a number of factors.  First, the court considered the logistics involved in getting the child to and from Madrid for the visitation.  The court had concerns with the people who would accompany the child.  Even though they were members of the child’s family they had never met the child. In addition, the individuals who the mother said would be responsible for accompanying the child to and from Madrid were not sure if they would be able to obtain visas to travel to the United States.  On the other hand, if the visitation occurred in Ecuador, the paternal grandmother would be willing to accompany the child to and from Ecuador, and there was not a question as to whether the she would be able to travel to and from Ecuador.

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In this case the Appellate Division considered an appeal by the mother of an order from the Bronx County Family Court granting the father primary physical custody of their child.

When considering custody, the Family Court’s overriding consideration is what is in the best interests of the child.  Ideally, both parents are equally capable of providing the care the child needs and are able to co-parent effectively despite the end to their romantic relationship.  However, that is not always the case.  Factors that the court will consider include:  which parents has been the  primary nurturer of the child, each parent’s parenting skills, the physical and mental health of each parent, whether there has been domestic violence in the home, each parent’s work schedules, the child’s relationship with other family members, the child’s preferences, and parental cooperation.  No one factor is determinative and the court has a great deal of discretion in making custody decisions.  The court will look at all factors and consider evidence presented by both parents to figure out the custody and visitation arrangement that is in the best interests of the child.

In Dariel M. v. Aurelyn Z.G., the parents split up and the mother left the family home, leaving the child in the family home with the father.  In the two years that she had lived away from the family home, appears as if the mother was not greatly involved in the raising of the child.  In making its decision, the court gave great weight to the fact that the father had been the child’s primary caregiver for the 2 years leading up to this petition for custody. This means that father took the lead in providing day-to-day care for the child including tending to the child’s emotional, physical, and educational needs.  Further, the court noted that the father was better able to provide a stable environment for the child and tend to the child’s educational and medical needs.  The mother, on the other hand, had not taken an active role in proving for the child’s educational needs or medical life for the past 2 years.  In fact, she had allowed the child’s health insurance coverage to lapse.  In addition, the mother did not have a stable job or stable housing.

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Typically, custody disputes are between the mother and father of the child.  However, family relationships are often complex, resulting in custody disputes between parents and members of the extended family. In Heather U. v. Janice, the custody dispute was between the mother of the child and the child’s great-grandmother.  The mother shared joint legal custody with the great-grandmother, but the great-grandmother was awarded physical custody of the child and the mother was awarded visitation.  Because the mother had issues as to how the great-grandmother was caring for her child, the mother petitioned the court to modify the custody agreement.

Upon reviewing the petition of the mother in which she alleged that circumstances had changed such that a change in the custody order was appropriate, the Family Court gave both the mother and the great-grandmother two weeks to provide the court with written submissions with details about the alleged changed circumstances.  Upon receipt of a written submission from the great-grandmother but none from the mother, the Family Court dismissed the mother’s petition, concluding that the mother had not established that a change in circumstances had occurred such that a modification of the prior custody order was appropriate.  The mother appealed to the New York Supreme Court.  The Supreme Court upheld the Family Court’s dismissal.

Under New York law, a custody order will only be modified if the circumstances have changed such that a modification would be appropriate.  For example, if one of the factors that contributed to a father being awarded sole legal and physical custody was that the mother was abusing alcohol, a changed circumstance would be that the mother has been sober for an extended period.  Or, if one of the factors that contributed to a mother being awarded custody was that the court determined that she had better parenting skills, a changed circumstance would be that the child was doing poorly at school and was not receiving appropriate medical care or mental health care.

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In Farner v. Farner, the Appellate Division considered whether a change in the mental health of the custodial mother was sufficient grounds for a custody modification.

Upon divorcing, the mother and father created a parenting agreement that was incorporated into their divorce decree.  According to the agreement, the mother was designated the primary residential parent.  She lived in Georgia. The father, who lived in New York, was awarded visitation.  Sometime later, the father became concerned about the well-being of his child in the care of the mother and her live-in boyfriend and petitioned the court for a modification to the custody and visitation arrangement.

In New York, custody arrangements are meant to be stable. The court will not alter an arrangement on a whim, as it is important for the child’s living arrangements and relationship with his or her parents to be stable and consistent.  However, the court does recognize that circumstances do sometimes change from when a custody agreement was established.  If there is a substantial change in circumstances, upon petition, the court will consider whether a change to the custody or visitation arrangement is in the best interests of the child.  One reason that the court will change a custody arrangement is if a change in the physical or mental health of a parent negatively impacts the parent’s ability to care for the child.

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In this case the Family Court was asked to determine whether to modify a visitation order to give the mother unsupervised visitation with her children.

In New York, visitation with a child is typically unsupervised.  This means that the non-custodial parent is generally permitted time alone with the child and is free to do whatever he or she chooses to do with the child as long as it is not in violation of the custody order. If, however, the court determines that it is not safe for the child to spend time alone with the parent, then the court will order supervised visitation.  Family Court will order supervised visitation when it determines that the child may be in danger if alone with the parent.  For example, if the parent is struggling with alcohol or drug addiction, the court would likely require supervised visitation.  If the parent has physically abused the child, the court may not want the parent to be alone with the child.  Also, supervised visitation may be required if there is a concern that the parent may abduct the child.

In Spencer v. Killoran the mother did not have custody of her children.  When the children were 6 years old, the court awarded custody to the cousins of the mother because of the mother’s abuse of alcohol. Three years later, the mother requested access to her children in the form of visitation.  Not entirely convinced that the mother had stopped abusing alcohol, the court entered an order allowing the mother unsupervised scheduled visitation with her children with the stipulation that she was monitored daily for alcohol use for a period of 6 months.  On two dates during the 6-month period, the mother tested positive for alcohol use.  The cousins petitioned the court to modify the visitation schedule to require the mother to have only supervised visits.  The court so ordered.  However, the court did not set a supervised visitation schedule, and instead directed that the visitation would be as the mother and cousins agreed. The mother appeals, arguing that the court erred in modifying the previous visitation order.

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In this case the father, who had full custody of the child, appealed a family Court decision that modified a custody agreement to give full custody to the mother.  In New York, custody decisions are meant to be final. Of course, that does not mean that Family Court will not ever modify custody arrangements. Modifications are permitted, but only in relatively extraordinary circumstances.

Whenever a court makes a custody determination, the foremost consideration is what is in the best interests of the child.  In making an initial determination the court typically reviews a great deal of evidence submitted by both parents.  Some of the factors that the Family Court will consider include who was the primary nurturer of the child, the parenting skills of each of the parents, the physical and mental health of each of the parents, work schedules, family relationships, and, particularly if the child is older, the child’s preference.

Once the court has considered these factors and has made a custody determination, it will not change its decision unless one parent alleges that there is a change in circumstances such that a change is warranted.  For example, if one parent submits evidences that the other parent’s physical or mental health has declined such that he or she is no longer able to properly care for the child or provide a safe environment for the child, the court would want to make an further inquiry into the situation to see if a custody change is warranted.

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In this case the Family Court was asked to determine whether to grant a father unsupervised visitation with his child because he lost his job and could not to afford the fees associated with supervised visitation.

The parents of the child were never married.  Their relationship ended when the child was 6 months old, and the mother accused the father of domestic violence and received an order of protection.  Both parents petitioned for custody.  The Family Court awarded the mother custody and the father 4 hours of weekly unsupervised visitation.  A few months later the mother petitioned the court for a modification to the custody order, alleging that the father had harmed the child.  The court changed the father’s access to 4 hours per week of professionally supervised visitation.  The order required that the father pay the expense associated with the supervised visitation.

A few months later the father petitioned the court for another modification of the custody order, asking that his access be changed back to unsupervised as he had lost his job and was not able to afford to pay the fees associated with the supervised visitation.  In denying the father’s petition the Family Court noted that according to the father’s own testimony, even before he lost his job he had difficulty paying the supervised visitation expenses.  Thus, when he lost his job, there was not a true change in circumstances as required for the court to consider modifying a custody arrangement.  The father appealed.

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In this case a father appealed a decision of the Family Court to suspend his visitation. The original custody order followed the parents’ divorce.  The father was granted visitation.  The order was later modified requiring that the father’s parental access had to occur in a public place.  The mother again petitioned the court to modify the custody order, further restricting the father’s access to the child.  The Family Court granted the mother’s petition and suspended the father’s access altogether.  The father appealed.

When the Family Court issues a final custody order, it will only change it if the circumstances have significantly changed, as a custody order is issued only after the court has carefully considered substantial testimony and evidence.  Often there is testimony from medical professionals.  When appropriate the child will testify and give his or her preference.  The goal of Family Court is always to facilitate healthy relationships between the child and both parents, and works with both parents to make sure that they each get to spend a significant amount f time with the child.  However, each case is different.  Ultimately, the child court will take all of the information presented and make a custody decision based on what is in the best interests of the child.  In some cases that may mean that it is necessary to modify the order so that the visitation is restricted.

Circumstances that would warrant a change to a custody order include a change in the lifestyle of the household, such as a new job that requires the parent to be absent often.  Substance abuse or violence in the household would require a modification as it is not in the best interests of the child to be in a dangerous environment.  If a parent experiences physical or mental health problems such that he or she would have difficulties caring for the child or such that the child would be in danger, the court would consider modifying the custody order.  Of course, the court will consider the preference of the child, particularly when the child gets older.

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The issue before the court is whether a parent who adopted out her children had the right to seek custody of them upon learning that the children were being sexually abused by the adoptive father.

The petitioner voluntarily surrendered her parental rights to her three children, 2 daughters and a son.  As part of the post-surrender agreement, the mother retained the right to visit with the children, and she did so regularly. The three children were subsequently adopted.  A few years after the adoption, Biological Mother found out that the children were not living in a safe environment.  One of her daughters was being sexually abused by Adoptive Father.  The other daughter was being sexually abused by an unrelated person.  The son was being bullied in the adoptive home.  In response, Biological Mother sought custody of the children.  Adoptive Father admitted that he sexually abused one of the daughters and was in jail. Adoptive Mother filed a motion opposing Biological Mother’s petition, arguing that she had no standing to file for custody.  Adoptive Mother also stated that she wanted to keep the children and that she was divorcing the adoptive father. In addition, the attorney representing the children opposed Biological Mother’s petition for custody.

The question before the court is whether a biological mother who previously surrendered her children has standing to bring an Article 6 custody petition against the children’s adoptive parents in a case where the adoptive father has admitted to sexually abusing one of the children.

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