In this case the Appellate Division reviewed an order of the Family Court of Schenectady County dismissing a mother’s motion to seek visitation with her child. The Family Court’s decision was based on two factors: the report of the forensic evaluator and the mother’s emotional outburst during the hearing.
In Matter of Jessica D. v Michael E., the father of a child born in 2007 was in 2008 granted full legal and physical custody based largely on the fact that the mother was struggling with drug abuse. In the same order, the mother’s visitation was suspended pending an application to reconsider such order. In 2016, the mother, who had not seen the child in several years, commenced a modification proceeding in Family Court seeking visitation with the child. A hearing was held in 2018 during which the mother was the only witness to testify. A court-appointed forensic evaluator was admitted into evidence. After the hearing the Family Court denied the mother’s request for visitation stating that it would not be in the best interests of the child. The mother appealed.
In New York courts have determined that generally it is in the best interests of a child to have a relationship with both the mother and the father. Both parents have a right to have access to their child. When making custody the decisions, taking many factors into consideration, courts seek to come up with an arrangement that gives both parents significant access to the child. A court will deny access if it determines that allowing access would place the child in risk of physical harm or serious emotional harm. In the case where a parent is battling drug addiction, has no stable place to live and no job, the court will not allow visitation as that parent would not be able to provide a safe environment for the child. However, a court will consider modifying a custody arrangement if there has been a significant change of circumstances since the original custody order.