When making a decision in custody matters, the primary concern is the best interests of the child. The courts may consider religion as one of the factors in determining the best interests of a child, but religion alone may not be the determinative factor. New York courts will consider religion in a custody dispute when a child has developed actual religious ties to a specific religion and those needs can be served better by one parent than the other.

So held the Appellate Division, Second Department, in its August 20, 2014 decision in Matter of Gribeluk v. Gribeluk,affirming Family Court Judge Sherri L. Eisenpress’ order awarding custody to the father. The appellate court noted that contrary to the mother’s contentions, Judge Eisenpress did not rely solely on religion and the mother’s decision to leave the Hasidic Jewish community in making the determination to award the father custody of the parties’ children.

Judge Eisenpress had expressly stated that it passed no judgment on either parent’s religious beliefs and practices. Rather it was the children’s need for stability, and the potential impact of uprooting them from the only lifestyle which they had known, that were important factors in making the custody determination.

Judge Eisenpress also found the mother’s repeated allegations of sexual abuse of the children by the father to have been unfounded, which subjected the children to numerous interviews and examinations, casting doubt upon the mother’s fitness to be the custodial parent.

Although the children expressed a preference to reside with the mother, and the attorney for the children advocated awarding custody to the mother, the children’s preference and the recommendation of the attorney for the children were not determinative and did not usurp the judgment of the Family Court.

Considering the totality of the circumstances, there was a sound and substantial basis in the record for the Family Court’s determination that it was in the best interests of the children to award custody to the father.

Ilene Kim Graff , of counsel to Eric Ole Thorsen, of New City, represented the father. Janice Mac Avoy, of Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson, LLP, of Manhattan, represented the mother. Veronica J. Young, of New City, served as Attorney for the Children.