Archives: Relocation

Children in balanceOn the night of August 24, 2013, the father received an email from the mother stating that she and the children had moved from East Hampton to Westhampton Beach—a distance of about 32 miles. Under their divorce settlement stipulation entered just 3 months earlier, it was agreed that the parties would share joint custody of their two children. The mother was to have residential custody of the children, subject to parenting time by the father from 4:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays, from 4:00 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. on Wednesdays, and on alternate weekends (i.e., on 8 out of 11 days).

In September, 2013, the father moved to enjoin the mother from relocating. At the ensuing hearing, the father testified that he normally works from 8:00 a.m. until 4:00 p.m. on weekdays. He testified that it usually took him about five minutes after finishing work to drive to the former marital residence in East Hampton to pick up the children for visitation. He further testified that it now took him 50 minutes to drive from his home in East Hampton to the mother’s new home in Westhampton Beach.

The mother testified that she moved because she had voluntarily changed jobs from a bank located in Bridgehampton to a bank located in Medford, and that the move cut 30 minutes off her new commute in each direction. She testified that her total compensation at the new job was comparable to her total compensation at her old job. She further testified that she moved to be closer to her parents in Riverhead. She testified that the children saw her parents about twice a month when they lived in the former marital residence in East Hampton, and about once a week after the move to Westhampton Beach.

Sufflok County Supreme Court Justice Stephen M. Behar granted the father’s motion to enjoin the mother’s relocation. The mother appealed.

Continue Reading Father’s Frequent Weekday Visitation Precludes Mother's 32-mile Relocation

Children in balanceOn the night of August 24, 2013, the father received an email from the mother stating that she and the children had moved from East Hampton to Westhampton Beach—a distance of about 32 miles. Under their divorce settlement stipulation entered just 3 months earlier, it was agreed that the parties would share joint custody of their two children. The mother was to have residential custody of the children, subject to parenting time by the father from 4:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays, from 4:00 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. on Wednesdays, and on alternate weekends (i.e., on 8 out of 11 days).

In September, 2013, the father moved to enjoin the mother from relocating. At the ensuing hearing, the father testified that he normally works from 8:00 a.m. until 4:00 p.m. on weekdays. He testified that it usually took him about five minutes after finishing work to drive to the former marital residence in East Hampton to pick up the children for visitation. He further testified that it now took him 50 minutes to drive from his home in East Hampton to the mother’s new home in Westhampton Beach.

The mother testified that she moved because she had voluntarily changed jobs from a bank located in Bridgehampton to a bank located in Medford, and that the move cut 30 minutes off her new commute in each direction. She testified that her total compensation at the new job was comparable to her total compensation at her old job. She further testified that she moved to be closer to her parents in Riverhead. She testified that the children saw her parents about twice a month when they lived in the former marital residence in East Hampton, and about once a week after the move to Westhampton Beach.

Sufflok County Supreme Court Justice Stephen M. Behar granted the father’s motion to enjoin the mother’s relocation. The mother appealed.

Continue Reading Father’s Frequent Weekday Visitation Precludes Mother’s 32-mile Relocation

One of the most difficult tasks facing family law judges is balancing the competing interests of each parent and the children in relocation cases. However, two recent Second Department decisions might indicate that a 50-mile rule is emerging.

In Katz v. Shomron, the Second Department on April 9, 2014, affirmed the order of Kings County Family Court Judge Michael L. Katz, which after a hearing granted the mother permission to relocate with the parties’ children from Brooklyn to Rockland or Westchester Counties. Without providing details, the appellate court agreed that the mother had established a change of circumstances and that the proposed relocation would serve the subject children’s best interests. The mother also established that the proposed move would not have a negative impact on the children’s relationship with the father.

We are told nothing more. However, the listing of counsel for the parties shows that the father resides in Belfast, Maine, and represented himself [there was no mention of how often he saw the children]. Gordon A. Burrows, of White Plains, N.Y., represented the mother. Karen P. Simmons, of the Children’s Law Center New York (Janet Neustaetter, of counsel), was attorney for the children.

In Caruso v. Cruz, the Second Department on February 13, 2014, reversed the order of Orange County Family Court Judge Lori Currier Woods, and granted the mother’s application to relocate with the children 57 miles from Orange County to New Rochelle.

The parties were the parents of 9-year-old twins and a 20-year-old son. They were divorced in 2004 by a judgment that incorporated, but did not merge with their stipulation of settlement. The stipulation provided for the parties to share joint legal custody of the subject children, with the mother having physical custody and the father having liberal visitation. The same provision included the parties’ agreement that neither party would move “beyond a one hundred mile radius of one another so as not to disrupt visitation with the children.”

In 2006 the parties commenced custody cross-petitions that were resolved by a 2007 order of the Family Court that continued joint legal custody, with the mother having physical custody, and set forth a comprehensive liberal visitation schedule for the father, which included alternate weekends, Tuesday and Thursday afternoons, and shared holidays and summers.

[Once the 2004 arrangement was modified, of what import was the 100-mile radius clause of the 2004 agreement? Did the 2004 agreement provide for visitation on 6 out of 14 days (alternate weekends plus 2 afternoons each week)? Did the father exercise this substantial visitation?]

In July, 2011, the father commenced this proceeding alleging that he had learned that the mother was in the process of moving 57 miles away to New Rochelle. The father alleged that it was not in the  children’s best interests to move to New Rochelle, because his visitation would be disrupted. Rather, he argued, their best interests would be served by awarding him sole legal and physical custody. The mother opposed the father’s petition, and requested leave to relocate with the subject children to New Rochelle.

After a hearing, Judge Currier Woods agreed with the father and denied the mother’s application to relocate, awarding the father sole legal and physical custody of the subject children. The Second Department reversed.

Although the Family Court was properly concerned about the impact that the move would have on the father’s relationship with the subject children, the record demonstrated that the relocation to New Rochelle would not “deprive the father of regular and meaningful access” to the children.

The Second Department further concluded that the Family Court should have denied the father’s petition for sole legal and physical custody of the subject children.

[W]hile we are mindful that the hearing court has an advantage in being able to observe the demeanor and assess the credibility of witnesses,  we would be seriously remiss if, simply in deference to the finding of a Trial Judge, we allowed a custody determination to stand where it lacks a sound and substantial basis in the record.

Here, the Family Court’s award of sole legal and physical custody to the father lacked a sound and substantial basis in the record. The Second Department believed Judge Currier Woods gave “undue weight” to particular instances of conflict between the parties, and to the mother’s failure to consult with the father before determining to move with the subject children to New Rochelle. Furthermore, the trial court failed to give sufficient weight to the fact that the mother had been the primary caregiver for the subject children for their entire lives, and had almost single-handedly addressed their medical and educational needs. In addition, the Family Court failed to give sufficient weight to the fact that awarding the father sole legal and physical custody of the subject children would unavoidably separate them from their younger brother from the mother’s second marriage.

Neal D. Futerfas, of White Plains, N.Y., represented the mother. Barbara J. Strauss, of Goshen, represented the father. Andrew W. Szczesniak, of White Plains, N.Y., was attorney for the children.

A mother’s application to relocate with her children to Arizona was properly dismissed where she failed to establish that the relocation would enhance the children’s lives economically or emotionally. In its January 29, 2004 decision in Christy v. Christy, the Second Department affirmed the order of Suffolk County Family Court Attorney Referee Roseann Orlando that had granted the father’s motion to dismiss the mother’s petition at the conclusion of the mother’s presentation of evidence.

The appellate court noted the general rule that on such a motion to dismiss a petition (as opposed to a ruling after both sides have presented all their evidence), the facts must be viewed in the light most favorable to the petitioner, accepting her proof as true and affording her every favorable inference that reasonably can be drawn therefrom.

Here, the mother failed to establish, prima facie, that her proposal to relocate to Arizona with the subject children was in their best interest. The mother failed to prove that the move would enhance the children’s lives economically. The mother was currently living in the home of her second husband together with six children, three from each of their prior marriages. The mother, an unemployed educator, testified that she had received a job offer in Arizona, contingent on her obtaining reciprocal certification. She, however, did not testify about what salary she expected to earn. Further, the mother’s second husband, who had a secure job in New York, annually, did not have a job waiting for him in Arizona.

Without proof of the second husband’s potential job prospects in Arizona, or proof of the mother’s earning potential as a teacher in Arizona, any contention that the children would enjoy a higher quality of life there is speculative.

The mother also provided no evidence that the lives of the subject children would be enhanced emotionally by the move.

There was no testimony regarding how the children felt about the proposed move, in terms of how they believed it would affect their relationship with their father or any of their friends. In fact, there was no evidence as to whether the subject children even desired to move.

Moreover, if relocation of the subject children across the country were permitted, the frequency of contacts between them and the father would be significantly reduced. He currently visited with the children three weekends a month.

The mother failed to show that the relationship between the subject children and the father could be preserved through suitable visitation arrangements, particularly given her financial circumstances.

Katherine M. Saciolo, of Bryan L. Salamone & Associates, P.C., of Melville, represented the mother.
Alan K. Hirschhorn, of Golden Hirschhorn LLP, of Garden City, represented the father. Beth A. Rosenthal, of North Babylon, N.Y., was Attorney for the Children.

Following a custody/visitation dispute, a parent may assert a malpractice claim as a defense to the application for the payment of fees of the Attorney for the Children. However, in its December 5, 2013 opinion in Venecia V. v August V., the Appellate Division, First Department, held that no malpractice had been committed, and no hearing was required to reach that conclusion.

The parties were the divorced parents of three children, now ages 17, 14 and 11. In their divorce action, the trial court had directed that mother would have primary residential custody in the marital apartment in Manhattan. When the mother moved  for an order allowing her to relocate with the children to Demarest, New Jersey, approximately 12 miles outside Manhattan, the father responded by moving for a change of custody. Jo Ann Douglas was then appointed Attorney for the Children.

Among the decisions below, New York County Supreme Court Justice Matthew F. Cooper allowed the relocation. The father’s visitation schedule was modified to account for the children’s schedule, including various extracurricular activities that required them to be in New Jersey.

Opposing the fee application of the Attorney for the Child (“AFC”), the father claimed that attorney had committed malpractice. He claimed that the children’s attorney ignored her professional duty by advocating the position advanced by two out of the three children (that they wanted to relocate with their mother), when the children lacked the “capacity for knowing, voluntary and considered judgment.” The father also claimed that the AFC violated the rules governing professional conduct in matrimonial matters by ignoring “abundant evidence that her clients’ judgment was not voluntary and in fact was manipulated by their mother.” The father charged that the AFC ignored the forensic expert’s observations and conclusions that the mother controlled and manipulated the children, and purposely alienated the children from him. He further argued that the AFC failed to consider post-relocation events, engaged in improper ex parte communications with the court, and assisted the mother in reducing his visitation.

Continue Reading Parent May Assert Malpractice Claim Against Attorney for the Child as Defense to Fee Application

It is common for a divorce settlement agreement to provide that a child will be emancipated if he or she leaves the residence of the custodial parent. The result is the stated reduction in child support payments to the custodial parent. However, if the child not only leaves the custodial parent, but moves in with the non-custodial parent, may that parent obtain child support from the former custodial parent? That will depend on the language, or more particularly, the lack of language of the parents’ agreement.

Such is the lesson of the July 10, 2013 decision of the Appellate Division, Second Department, in Samuelson v. Samuelson. In that case, the parties were divorced in January, 2011. The divorce judgment incorporated the parties’ 2009 surviving stipulation of settlement.

Under that agreement, the father agreed to pay the mother basic child support of $1,150 per month for the parties’ two children until the occurrence of an “emancipation event,” defined to include a “change in custody.” The stipulation further provided that in the event one child was emancipated, the father’s basic child support obligation would be reduced to $846 per month.

Two months after the divorce judgment was entered, the parties agreed to transfer custody of their son from the mother to the father. Several months later, the father moved for an award of child support from the mother, to be “credited against my child support payments re our minor daughter.” The father claimed he was on the verge of personal bankruptcy.

Supreme Court Queens County Justice William Harrington denied the father’s motion, accepting the mother’s argument, and finding that the parties’ obligations were set by their agreement. The father failed to establish an unanticipated and unreasonable change in circumstances, or that the child’s needs were not being met.

The Second Department affirmed. The parties’ agreement was binding. Since the stipulation set forth the plaintiff’s child support obligation in the event of a change of custody of one of the children, a change in custody of one of the children could not be considered unanticipated.

Continue Reading Child Support: When One of the Children Switches Homes

Particularly in light of the allegations that the mother threatened to retaliate against her 14-year old daughter’s testimony supporting the father, it was an abuse of discretion for the trial Judge to require the daughter to testify in open court in this custody modification proceeding. The girl should have been interviewed by the judge in chambers without her parents and their lawyers being present.

That sentiment was noted by the Appellate Division, Third Department, in its June 27, 2013 decision in Casarotti v. Casarotti that affirmed Madison County Family Court Judge Biagio DiStefano‘s order changing primary physical custody of the girl from the mother’s residence in New York to the residence of her father in California, despite the presence of the daughter’s 18- and 20-year old siblings in New York.

In this case, the parties were the divorced parents of two daughters (born in 1992 and 1998) and a son (born in 1994). The younger daughter was the only subject of this proceeding.

The family had lived together in northern California until the parties’ separation in 2000. At that time, the mother moved with the three children to New York. The parties later consented to joint custody of the children in a stipulation that was incorporated, but not merged into their 2007 judgment of divorce. In accordance with the stipulation, the mother maintained primary physical custody of the children in New York. The father, who remained in California, was granted liberal parenting time during weekends, winter holidays and summer vacations.

In July 2012, the father commenced this custody modification proceeding, seeking primary physical custody of the child. He alleged that the two older children had moved out of the mother’s house, the mother was emotionally abusive to the youngest child, and that the child now wanted to live with him in California.

Judge DiStefano held a hearing at which the parties, the 14-year-old child and her 20-year-old sister testified. Judge DiStefano granted the father’s petition and awarded him primary physical custody, while otherwise maintaining joint custody.

Continue Reading 14-Year-Old Daughter Should Not Have Been Made to Testify in Front of Parents in Custody Modification Proceeding

U-haul.jpgWhen a judge works this hard to provide a searching analysis of a difficult question, we should sit up and take notice.

Should an unemployed father be required to prove why he should not have to relocate to seek/obtain employment in his field as a condition to him receiving a downward modification of his child support obligations?

Presenting a scholarly review of decisions in New York and around the country, Monroe County Supreme Court Justice Richard A. Dollinger crafted a test to determine whether a parent with substantial child support obligations, and unique job skills, is required as a matter of law to geographically expand his search for employment.

The essential facts in Szalapski v. Schwartz are not unfamiliar. The former spouses have three children, ranging in ages from 10 to 15. When the parties were divorced in 2005, the father was earning $82,000 annually; the mother approximately $6,000. The father’s child support obligation was $1,826.49 monthly.

Mr. Szaplapski (the “father”) is a “multi-disciplinary physicist,” with a career in academia before serving as a staff engineer. He left academics in 2004, electing to stay in western New York to accommodate his family. He worked in software design for which he had only marginal qualifications. In July, 2010, the father was laid off. After his severance pay ended, he received unemployment insurance benefits of $405 per week.

In the application being decided by Justice Dollinger, the father, now remarried, sought to reduce his child support obligation. He alleged that he was unable to find comparable employment in the geographic area where his children live.  His ex-wife challenged the diligence of his job search, but also argued that because of the father’s unique talents, the court must require him to diligently search for employment in a broader geographic area. That the father failed to do.

Justice Dollinger began with a detailed legal and factual analysis of the father’s search for employment in the Rochester area where the parties lived. This exhaustive analysis, itself, presented a primer on the diligent efforts necessary to withstand a motion to dismiss an application for a downward modification of a child support obligation based upon the loss of employment. Based upon the evidence presented Justice Dollinger found that the father presented “a prima facie case for a hearing.”

Noting that a parent’s child support obligations are “paramount.” Justice Dollinger then turned “to the second question: is the applicant required to demonstrate a reasonable job search outside the local community and, if so, how far does his job search have to extend?”

Continue Reading Unemployed Father May Have To Relocate Rather Than Having His Child Support Obligation Reduced

we are moving with question mark flipped.jpgAs noted in the February 8, 2010 post, seven very recent decisions reveal just how present are applications by separated parents to relocate with children. These decisions demonstrate that relocation applications will be decided very much on a case-by-case basis. However, common inquiries are evident:

  • To what extent is the relocation a necessity?
  • To what extent has the relocating parent fostered the relationship between the child and the parent left behind?
  • To what extent has the parent left behind exercised rights of visitation and sacrificed to be involved in the life of the child?
  • To what extent will educational and other opportunities for the child be enhanced by the relocation?

The prior blog post reported on four decisions of the Appellate Division, Third Department. This post discusses the remaining three.

In its January 31, 2012 decision in Ramirez v. Velazquez, the Fourth Department affirmed the order of Oneida County Family Court Judicial Hearing Officer John E. Flemma that denied permission to a 20-year-old mother to relocate with the parties’ three children from Utica to New York City.

Continue Reading Relocation of the Single Parent and Child: Recent Decisions (Part II)

we are moving with question mark.jpgSeven decisions published in the last few months reveal just how significant an issue parent relocation remains. Perhaps it results from a difficult economy; perhaps a simple reflection of our mobile society.

Whatever the cause, these decisions reveal the judicial system’s agony when trying to predict the “best interest of a child.”

Four of these decisions come out of upstate’s Appellate Division, Third Department. To begin, in its December 8, 2011 decision in Kirshy-Stallworth v. Chapman, the appellate court affirmed the order of Ulster County Family Court Judge Anthony McGinty which dismissed a mother’s petition to relocate with her eight-year-old daughter and current husband to Western Pennsylvania.  The Third Department noted that:

a lower-court decision “will not be disturbed if supported by a sound and substantial basis in the record.”

The court recognized that, admittedly, there were benefits to the mother which might support a decision to allow the relocation. She was disabled and receiving Social Security disability benefits while her husband had suffered a work-related injury and had difficulty finding suitable employment. He was offered a job in a car dealership by the mother’s uncle. There was lower-court testimony of the mother’s excellent parenting, the father’s failure to fully avail himself of visitation rights, and the mother’s promise to facilitate visits with the father after her move.

However, there was a lack of evidence that the mother’s current community was unsatisfactory, or that the child’s current school was not meeting her needs. There was insufficient evidence that the educational opportunities for the child were any better in Pennsylvania. The plans for the mother’s housing and her husband’s employment were not certain. With such a record, the appellate court could not conclude that Judge McGinty’s determination, that the mother had failed to demonstrate that relocation would be in the child’s best interest, lacked a sound in substantial basis. Accordingly, the dismissal of the mother’s petition was affirmed.

Continue Reading Relocation of the Single Parent and Child: Recent Decisions (Part I)