The father petitioned the Family Court for enforcement of his rights to visit with his 13-year old son. Alternatively, the father asked to suspend his child support obligation. Instead, Westchester County Family Court Judge Hal B. Greenwald granted the mother’s cross petition to modify the prior order of custody and visitation and suspended the father’s visitation with the subject child.
The Appellate Division, Second Department, modified that order by suspending the father’s child support obligation, affirming the suspension of all visitation in its September 2, 2015 decision in Matter of Coull v. Rottman.
In determining custody and visitation rights, the most important factor to be considered is the best interest of the child. Here, the evidence demonstrated that despite the fact that the child had participated in therapy for several months in an effort to foster a relationship with his father, the child remained vehemently opposed to any form of visitation with the father. Furthermore, while the express wishes of the child were not controlling, they were entitled to great weight, particularly where the child’s age and maturity would make his or her input particularly meaningful. Here, the appellate court held that the Judge Greenwald was entitled to place great weight on the child’s wishes, since he was mature enough to express them. Judge Greenwald’s finding that further attempts to compel the child, who was then 13 years old, to engage in visitation would be detrimental to the child’s emotional well being had a sound and substantial basis in the record and, thus, would not be disturbed.
However, contrary to Judge Greenwald’s conclusion, the evidence justified a suspension of the father’s obligation to make future child support payments. The forensic evaluator testified that there was a “pattern of alienation” resulting from the mother’s interference with a regular schedule of visitation. The evaluator was unable to complete her evaluation because the mother refused to consent to the evaluator’s request to speak with mental health providers or school officials, and the child did not appear for his interview.
Moreover, after the father’s last visit with the child, the father continued to go to the exchange location on visitation days for several months. On one occasion, the mother and child appeared, but the mother said the child would not come out of the car. On the other occasions, neither the mother nor the child appeared, nor did the mother communicate with the father. The father was never told about the child’s medical needs or that the child had been hospitalized until after the fact, nor was he advised of any information about the child’s school or school events.
Further, the record reflected that the mother, who represented herself before Judge Greenwald, assumed an inappropriately hostile stance toward the father and witnesses who testified in his favor. Judge Greenwald noted in its decision that the mother stated “many times, that she will never allow [the father] to see the subject child and that she would do whatever it takes to keep the subject child away” from him.
Robin D. Carton, of White Plains, N.Y., attorney for the child.