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Court modified the order for supervised visitation for practical reasons. D.T. v. C.T. 215 A.D.3d 1232 (N.Y. App. Div. 2023)


Background Facts
In July 2021, the Family Court of Onondaga County awarded the petitioner, the father, sole legal and primary physical custody of the children involved. Additionally, it provided the mother with supervised visitation rights, stipulating that the specifics of these visitations be mutually agreed upon by both parents. This decision was subsequently appealed by the mother, who contested several aspects of the ruling.

The mother’s appeal focused on issues relate to the process of service of the notice of appeal, the admission of certain evidence, and the terms of her visitation rights. Particularly contentious were the admission of text message screenshots between the mother and the children, and a recorded conversation, which she argued contained inadmissible hearsay. Moreover, the mother challenged the representation by the attorney for the children (AFC), claiming an improper substitution of judgment regarding the children’s wishes, which she believed conflicted with their best interests

Whether the Family Court’s order was appropriate and justified under the law to the father and the stipulation for supervised visitation to be determined by mutual agreement of the parties.

The appellate court modified the original Family Court order by vacating the part of the order that allowed for supervised visitation to be determined by mutual agreement. The modified order affirmed the rest of the Family Court’s decision and remitted the matter back to Family Court for further proceedings to establish a more defined visitation schedule.

The appellate court’s rationale for modifying the supervised visitation arrangement and upholding the decision to grant sole custody to the father was based on ensuring the best interests of the children and addressing procedural inadequacies. The court decided to remove the stipulation that supervised visitation between the mother and the children be determined “as the parties mutually agree.”

This decision was influenced by practical considerations. The court recognized that leaving the terms of visitation to be mutually agreed upon by the parties was untenable under the circumstances. Given the contentious nature of the parents’ relationship and past difficulties in cooperation, a more structured and clearly defined visitation schedule was deemed necessary to avoid further conflict and uncertainty. The appellate court, therefore, remitted the matter back to Family Court to establish a specific schedule for supervised visitation. This approach was intended to provide a stable and predictable framework for the mother’s interaction with the children, which is essential for fostering a healthy parent-child relationship in a high-conflict custody scenario.

The appellate court upheld the award of sole custody to the father based on a sound and substantial basis in the record that this arrangement served the children’s best interests. The decision emphasized several critical factors: the mother’s repeated disparagement of the father, her exposure of the children to domestic violence, and the transmission of inappropriate content to the children’s devices. Additionally, the mother had not maintained a stable home environment, which further justified concerns regarding her suitability for custody.

The court found that these actions and circumstances significantly impacted the children’s well-being and could lead to serious emotional and psychological harm. By granting sole custody to the father, the court aimed to provide the children with a more stable and less harmful living situation. This decision reflects the court’s priority to safeguard the children’s welfare above all and to place them in an environment where their safety and developmental needs can be adequately met. The appellate court’s ruling thus centered on ensuring that custody arrangements align closely with fostering the children’s best interests, stability, and security.

If you are involved in a child custody matter, it’s important to contact a knowledgeable New York child custody lawyer who understands the nuances of the law and how it applies to your specific circumstances. Contact Stephen Bilkis & Associates to ensure that your parental rights are effectively represented and upheld. We have the expertise to help you navigate the complexities of the legal system and secure a result that aligns with your child’s best interests and your parental rights.

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