culverchristopher.jpgIn a 3-2 decision, the Appellate Division, Third Department, in Culver v. Culver, affirmed that part of a Saratoga County Family Court decision of Judge Courtenay Hall which granted visitation to an incarcerated father with his 5-year old daughter.

The father, Christopher Culver, 35, a former Shenendehowa elementary school teacher, pleaded guilty in 2008 to a 49-count indictment which included 29 counts of first degree sexual abuse arising from his molestation of 8 of Culver’s first grade male students.

Culver, who had not seen his daughter since she was 18 months old, was granted 4 visits per year with the child at his correctional facility.   It was additionally provided that the child be accompanied by a responsible adult — other than the mother — with whom the child is familiar and who will cooperate with the mother and father in effectuating each visit; that the child and her escorts engage in counseling in preparation for and subsequent to each visit; and that the father have monitored telephone contact and written communication with the child.

Ironically, the mother was defeated in her efforts to prevent personal visits by the father by her own efforts to preserve the relationship of the child with Culver and his family.  “To the mother’s credit, the child has received mail from the father on a regular basis, and both the child’s paternal aunt and paternal grandparents — who have been permitted ongoing relationships with the child by the mother — are willing to transport the child to the correctional facility and cooperate with the mother’s related wishes — e.g., to not discuss the specific circumstances surrounding the father’s incarceration and to attend counseling in order to facilitate the visits.”  As noted by the dissent:

While the child has been described as well adjusted, the full credit for this result must be granted to the mother, for we cannot conclude that a father who leaves the home he shares with his infant daughter in the morning to molest his students during the school day could properly have a healthy emotional relationship with this child.

The Appellate Division did modify that part of Judge Hall’s decision which required the mother to pay for the telephone calls and the counseling for the child and her escorts before and after the visits.  It is now the father who will be responsible for arranging funding of all visitation expenses, including counseling and telephone calls.

Notably, the 2-judge dissent points out, neither expert who testified at the Family Court hearing evaluated the father or visited his institution. The dissent would have permitted only weekly monitored letters to the child and monthly monitored telephone calls, with all costs to be borne by the father, “given this father’s lengthy prison sentence, the horrific nature of the underlying sex offenses, his refusal to acknowledge his conduct or his need for sex abuse counseling, the distance the child would have to travel to exercise visitation in a maximum security prison setting, and the fact that more than three years have now elapsed since he has seen the child.”

Perhaps that’s why they invented Skype.