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Court Rules on Child Visitation


It is very common for parties who are fighting over the custody of their children to have visitation agreements that state the exact time and place of exchange of custody from one parent to another, if and when the primary custodial role is awarded to one of the parents. As explained by a New York Family Lawyer, a schedule for standard visitation typically includes alternating weekend visits of the non-custodial parent, extended summer visits and alternating holidays. Most of the time, it will depend on the parties’ agreement. In this case, when Ray Russenberger’s and Cynthia Russenberger’s (now Steltenkamp) marriage was finally dissolved, the Mother was selected as the primary custodian but must adhere to “liberal” visitation rights by the Father to his children. Moreover, the agreement included that the parents still have the full rights and responsibilities in bringing up their children and must decide with each other concerning their children’s interests. Also no written stipulation demanded that they don’t leave Pensacola or prohibited going to any other location.

Immediately after the divorce proceedings, when the visitation rights were exercised by the Father, he found it difficult to stop by and see his children because there was no specific schedule specified on the provisions as to when and where he would visit his children. So on February 4th, the Father filed a move for a final judgment, stating the problems he is dealing with visitation and had asked the judge to enforce a visitation schedule so he could easily see his five children. The next day, he was advised by his legal counsel that his former wife was planning to move houses to Suffern, New York, together with their five children. A few weeks later, Mrs. Steltenkamp’s legal counsel let Mr. Russenberger know that his ex-wife would like to come up with a reasonable visitation schedule for him, once they relocate to New York. On February 25th, Mr. Russenberger petitioned to enforce a final judgment and filed a motion for temporary injunction to prevent his ex-wife from relocating with the kids to New York. Then on April 5th, the motions were granted and the children were to stay in Pensacola to finish their studies before relocating.

When Mrs. Russenberger married her new husband, Mike Steltenkamp, she knew that she and her new husband would eventually have to relocate to Suffern for his new job position. Also, even before their marriage, they have already bought a new house in Suffern and that they already intended to relocate in January of 2003. On May 1993, Mr. Russenberger filed a motion for contempt and asked the court to enforce a visit schedule. As a result, negotiations ensued but no agreement was made because the Father would not agree to the children traveling to New York and living there. He also said that any travel to New York would infringe on the temporary injunction granted by the court in April. A hearing was then set to decide whether to allow Mrs. Steltenkamp to bring the children to New York but days before the date of the hearing, she called Mr. Russenberger to inform him that she was already in New York with the kids for a few weeks and that he wouldn’t be able to exercise his visitation rights for the duration of their trip.

Mr. Russenberger then filed an emergency move to hold his ex-wife in contempt. She wasn’t considered in contempt but she was ordered to return the kids to Pensacola within a day, or if she fails, Mr. Russenberger was permitted to go to New York and that he was coming to get the kids himself. The proceedings went on until the end of the year and during those hearings and proceedings, the Father requested that his children undergo psychological evaluations to determine how they are faring about their situation. He even renewed this request for evaluations and even challenged the lower court when the request for the psychological tests was denied. According to our New York Criminal Lawyer, a trial court held hearings that let both sides present evidences regarding the relocation, the impact of the situation to the children, and evidences that show that the children are better off in Pensacola than anywhere else. Also issues about the visitation rights of the Father were brought up to the trial court.

Mr. Russenberger then quit on insisting about the psychological evaluations that the children must undergo, however, the Supreme Court finds this necessary, instead. Also, the Father argued that since the lower court already disregarded the motion, it must not push through anymore. Custody battles make it difficult for courts to come up with decisions because there is a lot of emotional baggage coming from the parties and the children involved in the proceedings. Therefore, to determine the weight of each of the parties’ intention, much like King Solomon has, the courts based their decisions on two similar cases and these are the Mize and Hill decisions. The Mize decision provides that courts must decide on the basis of consideration of the family’s best interests and that as long as the custodial party did not intend to get rid of the non-custodial parent’s visitation rights, then it is alright to relocate the children.

A Queens Family Lawyer explained that the Hill decision considered several factors before approving a petition for relocation. The following are: (1.) if the relocation will better the quality of children and primary custodian’s lives, (2.) whether the transfer is accomplished to prevent the non-custodial party from visiting, (3.) whether the parent who has custody will be able to conform to visitation arrangements, (4.) whether the new visitation set-up will be enough to promote and continue the existing relationship between the other parent and the children, (5.) whether it is affordable to both parties, and (6.) whether the relocation will be for the children’s best interests. Looking at these, the Mize decision seems to have a preference for relocation because it states that since a custodian parent was appointed, it follows that where ever that parent goes will be for the best interest of his or her children. Under the Mize decision, if Mrs. Steltenkamp decides that New York is best for her, then it also follows that it is also what is best for their children.

According to our Nassau County Family Lawyer, when the Mize and the Hill decisions were applied together, they were actually contradicting because the Hill decision was just simply too difficult to achieve. In this case, both decisions were

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