Custody and Visitation

Can a court order a parent to impose discipline on children who voluntarily refuse to engage in court-ordered visitation with the other parent? Yes, said Monroe County Supreme Court Justice Richard A. Dollinger in his September 18, 2020 opinion in Matthew A. v. Jennifer A., enforcing a separation agreement’s schedule. The parents had determined what was in their children’s best interests; it was the Court’s job to help them “drive the bus,” using the parents’ authority to impose discipline on children, as well as the Court’s contempt powers, to enforce that schedule.

The parties were the parents of three boys, 10, 12 and 14, who resided primarily with their mother under a separation agreement that was less than two years old. Because of the distance between the parents’ homes, the father’s agreed-upon one midweek dinner with the boys was not specified. However, the agreement provided that if the father moved closer to the mother’s home, such would constitute a substantial change in circumstances permitting the father to seek a modification.

A year after the divorce, the father did move closer to the mother’s home. The father filed a motion seeking to expanded his alternate weekend time with the children to include Sunday overnights. He also sought to hold the mother in contempt for her alleged failure to follow the original schedule. For her part, the mother filed her own visitation modification petition seeking fewer visitation hours alleging, “the children’s wishes have changed;” the children did not want to have any dinner visits with their father if they had organized activities after school.

At a preliminary appearance, Justice Dollinger warned the mother that he was ordering the mother to restrict the children’s privileges and access to extracurricular activities if the children continued to fail to attend visitation. Justice Dollinger warned that he could hold a residential parent in contempt if the parents failed to strictly enforce the disciplinary restrictions set forth in a court order.


Continue Reading Making Mom Make the Kids Visit Dad

Appreciation. Innovation. Frustration. All can be heard in New York County Supreme Court Justice Matthew Cooper’s May 18, 2020 decision in Chu v. Lin, dealing with parenting and marital residence issues in an ongoing divorce action. Justice Cooper begins with praise of the New York court system’s stepping up to adapt and press on during the COVID-19 pandemic. Indeed, it may “its finest hour.” At the same time, he bemoans the inadequacy of the new technology.

“While the true heroes of this medical emergency are undoubtedly health care workers, first responders, and other front-line workers who have put their health, and even their lives, on the line caring for others and supplying vital goods and services, an immense amount of credit must also be given to those who have managed to keep our courts open and running under the most difficult of circumstances imaginable. An independent, operational court system may not be an absolute necessity for sustaining life itself, but it is nevertheless an essential component of life as we know it in this country, as it is of any full-fledged constitutional democracy.”

In Chu, the pandemic exacerbated existing problems with parental access. Throughout the divorce action’s two-year history, a lasting resolution on custody and parental access had been stymied by a toxic mix of dysfunctional parenting, allegations of domestic violence, the existence of a Family Court Order of Protection, and an inability to abide by court orders.


Continue Reading Parenting Issues under COVID, Part II

Four recent decisions address the issue of whether “stay at home” orders and the generalized pandemic threat are sufficient to deprive a child of regular and meaningful personal contact with both parents.

No, held Bronx County Family Court Judge Ariel D. Chesler on May 7, 2020 in Matter of S.V. v. A.J.

A generalized fear of the coronavirus crisis we all face is insufficient to severely limit and perhaps harm a child’s relationship with a parent.

There, the parties were the parents 4- and 2-year-old children who lived primarily with their mother. Prior to the father’s current application, numerous Family Court petitions had been filed. However, no temporary or final custody orders had been entered. A January 16, 2020 order granted the father alternate weekend visitation. Moreover, a Criminal Court final Order of Protection directed the father to stay away from the mother. As a result, the children were being exchanged at a police precinct.

The visitation order had been followed until the New York and New Jersey quarantine orders were issued. Then, the mother unilaterally decided not to produce the children for three alternate weekend visits beginning March 27th. In response, the parties arranged through their attorneys for daily video conference visits to take place between the father and the children. However, when further efforts by the parties to resolve the issue failed, the father petitioned the court to enforce the temporary order schedule, schedule makeup visits, and to direct daily video conferences.


Continue Reading Visitation in These COVID-19 Times

In 2011, after the parties separated, the mother received sole custody of the parties’ only child, who resided with her. The father was awarded access every weekend. The father subsequently filed a petition seeking increased access. After a hearing, Kings County Family Court Judge Maria Arias denied the pro se father’s petition.

The father appealed, contending that the Family Court should have granted his request for a copy of a forensic report prepared by a court-appointed forensic evaluator, and that the court erred in admitting the forensic report into evidence. In its July 10, 2019 opinion in Raymond v. Raymond, the Second Department affirmed.


Continue Reading Pro Se Father Denied Copy of Forensic Report Although Received in Evidence

Leaving parenting-time decisions to the future agreement of the parents is not a great idea, particularly with quarreling parents. So held the Appellate Division, Second Department, in its February, 2019 decision in Cabano v. Petrella.

In that case, the parents had entered into a December, 2013 so-ordered stipulation which, among other things, reaffirmed their joint legal custody, reaffirmed the mother’s residential custody, and set forth a detailed parental access schedule. That arrangement remained substantively in effect in a so-ordered modification stipulation entered in October, 2016.

In June, 2017, the father petitioned for a modification of the parental access schedule (apparently at least the third proceeding after parenting rights were initially established). After a hearing, Suffolk County Family Court Referee Kerri N. Lechtrecker granted the father additional parental access with the child.

Further, the Referee modified the number of hours of access to which each party was entitled on the mother’s birthday, the father’s birthday, and the child’s birthday. The order provided, in effect, that the parties each would have parental access with the child on his or her own birthday, and on the child’s birthday, if the birthday was during the other party’s parental access, for two hours on a school day and for four hours on a non-school day. The order required the parties to cooperate in reaching an agreement on the details.

The mother appealed. The Second Department modified that order.


Continue Reading Don’t Leave Future Parenting-Time Decisions for Later Agreement

At times, a court must delicately balance the best interests of the children and their parents with contract rights, religious matters, ethical and social values, and constitutional principles and individual rights. That balance is remarkably reflected in the August 16, 2017 decision in Weisberger v. Weisberger, of the Appellate Division, Second Department. There, the Court concluded:

Courts do not always have the perfect solution for all of the complexities and contradictions that life may bring — the parties must forge a way forward as parents despite their differences.

The Weisbergers were married in 2002. In 2005, the mother told the father that she could not tolerate having sexual relations with men, and that she was sexually attracted to women. The parties were divorced in 2009. The judgment incorporated a stipulation of settlement under which the parties agreed to joint legal custody of the two daughters and one son of the marriage, with the mother having primary residential custody. The father would be with the children for a two-hour period once per week after school (to be increased to twice per week for the son when he turned eight years old, for the purpose of religious study). The father would also have overnight visitation every other Friday after school until Saturday evening for the observance of the Sabbath; for two consecutive weeks every summer; and an alternating schedule for holidays.

Central to the issues raised on appeal, the stipulation contained the following religious upbringing clause:

“Parties agree to give the children a Hasidic upbringing in all details, in home or outside of home, compatible with that of their families. Father shall decide which school the children attend. Mother to insure that the children arrive in school in a timely manner and have all their needs provided.”

In 2012, more than three years after the divorce, at which time the children were nine, seven (the son), and five years old, respectively, the father moved (1) for sole legal and residential custody of the children, as well as final decision-making authority over medical and dental issues, and issues of mental health; (2) limiting the mother to supervised therapeutic visitation with the children; and (3) to enforce the religious upbringing clause so as to require the mother to direct the children to practice full religious observance in accordance with the Jewish Hasidic practices of ultra Orthodoxy at all times and to require the mother, herself, to practice full religious observance in accordance with the Hasidic practices of ultra Orthodoxy.


Continue Reading Balancing the Best Interests of Children with Religious, Contract, and Individual Rights

Family 2In his March 8, 2017 decision in Dawn M. v. Michael M., Suffolk County Supreme Court Justice H. Patrick Leis III granted a wife “tri-custody” of her husband’s ten-year-old biological son with the wife’s paramour.

Dawn and Michael M. were married in 1994. After unsuccessful attempts to have a child, the couple attempted artificially insemination. Those efforts also failed.

In 2001, the wife met Audria and they became close friends. Audria and her boyfriend moved into an apartment downstairs from Dawn and Michael. When Audria’s boyfriend moved out, Audria moved upstairs. In 2004, the wife, husband and Audria began to engage in intimate relations.

As time went on, Audria, Dawn and Michael began to consider themselves a “family” and decided to have a child together. After the fertility doctor refused to artificially inseminate Audria because she was not married to Michael, the trio decided to conceive a child naturally by Michael and Audria engaging in unprotected sexual relations, and then, to all raise the child together as parents.

A son, J.M., was born to Audria in January, 2007. For more than 18 months, the three “parents” continued to live together. The child was taught that he had two mothers. When the relationship between the husband and the wife became strained, Audria and the wife moved out of the marital residence with the child.


Continue Reading Wife Awarded “Tri-Custody” of Son of Her Husband and His and Her Paramour

Close up of hebrew and english Bible.

Absent agreement of both parents, neither parent sharing joint legal custody nay cause or allow the children to receive any religious sacrament or education. So held Supreme Court Nassau County Justice Jeffrey A. Goodstein in his January 13, 2017 decision in DK v. AK.

The parties had two children together (currently ages 6 and 5). The parties were divorced in 2016 by a judgment which incorporated, but did not merge, the terms of their 2015 Stipulation of Settlement. Pursuant to the Stipulation, the parties shared joint legal custody of the children, with the mother having residential custody. Here, the father had brought this post-judgment motion for an order prohibiting the mother from causing or allowing the children to be baptized, or to receive any religious sacrament, or a religious education in any faith other than Judaism, without his written consent.

The father argued that there had been no issue with regard to the parties’ joint custodial relationship until the mother’s decision to baptize the children. The father further argued that the children were raised in the Jewish faith, as was allegedly agreed upon by the parties prior to their engagement. The mother acknowledged that the parties’ son had a traditional Bris, performed by a Mohel (performer of ritual circumcisions). The mother also acknowledged that the parties had a naming ceremony for their daughter although she contended that it was the paternal grandfather who wanted the baby naming and scheduled it, so she took over planning it.

The father further alleged that prior to their separation, the parties “actively” raised the children in the Jewish faith by celebrating the Jewish holidays. He contended that the children now accompany him to synagogue when he attends. Further, he set forth that a few months ago, the children started attending Hebrew school, with the mother’s consent.

The parties recently attended a mediation session when the mother wanted to bring the children to Catholic events. As reported by the parties, the mediator took the position that the children could be raised as both Jewish and Catholic, to which the father strongly disagreed. Shortly after the mediation session, the mother notified the father of her intent to baptize the children and invited him to attend the ceremony. The father further argued that a baptism is tantamount to changing the children’s religion without his consent.


Continue Reading No Religious Sacraments To Be Administered To Children, Absent Consent of Both Joint Custodial Parents

We are not moving croppedFor the second time this month, the Second Department prevented a wife from relocating with the children “locally” when the move would have limited the husband’s substantial involvement in the children’s daily lives. In its January 18, 2017 decision in Lipari v. Lipari, the appellate court affirmed the prohibition of a mother’s proposed relocation from Valley Cottage, in Rockland County, to Rye, in Westchester County, a distance of 17 miles. Only a week earlier, in DeFilippis v. DeFilippis, the Second Department prevented a wife from relocating from Floral Park to East Hampton [last week’s blog post].

In Lipari, under the parties’ divorce settlement the parties shared joint legal custody of their two children, with the mother having primary residential custody. The father had overnight visitation on alternating weekends and certain overnight visitation with the children during each week and during certain school breaks and holidays. With the mother remaining in the Valley Cottage marital residence, the father rented a two-bedroom condominium approximately five minutes away.


Continue Reading Mother Cannot Relocate With Children 17 Miles From Valley Cottage to Rye