In this case, the court was asked to intervene when the child’s maternal grandmother appeared to influence the amount of parental access the mother gave the father.
The mother and father were not married when they had a child together. The father was very involved in the child’s life during the first few months of the child’s life. He would see the child three or four times a week in the morning prior to going to work, in the evenings and on the weekends. The mother showed that she was committed to helping ensure that the father was involved and understood how to care for the child. Things changed when the mother’s mother moved in with her to help care of the child. The grandmother became the child’s paid babysitter. The father’s access to the child became increasing limited.
As a result, on March 4, 2019, the Father commenced the instant proceedings by filing a Petition against the Mother in Kings County Family Court, seeking joint legal custody and full visitation rights with the Child. The Mother promptly followed with her own Cross Petition for Custody on March 8, 2019, seeking sole legal custody
Whenever the court makes a decision about custody, the court puts the best interests of the child first. In determining what is in the best interests of the child, the court looks at several factors including the relationship of the child to each parent, the ability of each parent to care for the physical, mental, and educational needs of the child, and the interest of each parent in helping to facilitate a positive relationship with the other parent.
Here, there is evidence that the mother and the maternal grandparent have taken actions to minimize the involvement of the father in the child’s life and at times did not view him as a parent to the child. However, it is also the case that with the consent of the father, the mother had been the primary caretaker of the child and that the child has continuously lived with her. In addition, the mother has taken steps to improve her parenting skills by taking classes. Despite showing hesitancy to involve the father in the child’s life, the mother appears to have had a change of heart. She presented evidence that she has sought guidance on how to effectively involve the father in the child’s upbringing. She even sent the father a parenting access proposal agreeing to share joint legal custody and visitation times with the father.
As for the father, there was evidence that for the first part of the child’s life, the father saw the child almost daily. However, that changed when the maternal grandmother moved in with the mother to help care for the child. He then would have to request time to see the child. When he did see the child, he was often given a list of tasks to complete. At the time that the father filed the petition, he was only permitted to see the child for one hour a week and that time was supervised by the mother or the grandmother.
Balancing all these factors, the court awarded the parties joint custody with the mother having physical custody and the father liberal visitation. In addition, to address the father’s objection to the grandmother’s overbearing involvement in the child’s live, included in the order was a requirement that the parents have the right of first refusal when it comes to babysitting. Thus, before the grandmother could be asked to care for the child presumably during the mother’s parenting time, the father would have to be asked first.
The court’s decision is consistent with the mandate of the legislature to strive to keep both parents involved in the child’s life. Whenever possible, the court will order joint custody as it is in the best interests of the child for both the child to have loving, nurturing relationships with both parents.