Gavel main.jpg

As has been the trend, a court has held that despite what may be the superior parenting skills of one parent, that parent may be denied custody if that parent does not promote the relationship of the children with the other parent.

In an April 26, 2012 decision, the Third Department in Jeannemarie O. v. Richard P. affirmed the order of Ulster County Supreme Court Justice Henry Zwack which, after a hearing in a divorce action, awarded the father temporary custody of the children.

When the parties were together, the mother had taken the more proactive role in raising the children. She had been the primary caretaker before the parties’ separation. The mother was more aware of the children’s needs. Contrasting, the father had exhibited occasional poor judgment in such serious matters as maintaining unsecured guns in the home.

Nevertheless, the mother’s positive attributes were outweighed by her cumulative efforts to interfere with the father’s relationship with the children. The mother had acted to prevent the father from having a meaningful role in the children’s lives and demonstrated a willingness to deceive in order to achieve her goal of parenting without the father’s involvement. The court noted:

Evidence that the custodial parent intentionally interfered with the noncustodial parent’s relationship with the child is so inconsistent with the best interests of the child as to, per se, raise a strong probability that the offending party is unfit to act as custodial parent.

The mother had placed her own self-interest ahead of that of the children. She lacked insight into the importance of the children’s relationship with father. Among other things:

  • the mother unilaterally moved the children several hours away from the father;
  • sought multiple orders of protection against the father—all of which were ultimately dismissed;
  • canceled agreed-upon visitation arrangements; and
  • made unsubstantiated allegations against the father as to, among other things, substance abuse and violence.

With regard to the mother’s most serious claim against the father — that he sexually abused one of the children — the lower court had that the child’s statements had likely resulted from the methods the child’s counselor used to elicit them or from manipulation by the mother. The mother had engaged in “inappropriate coaching of the children” to support her goal of alienating them from the father.

The mother placed her own self-interest ahead of that of the children. She lacked insight into the importance of the children’s relationship with the father and the detrimental impact of her actions upon them. On the other hand, the father showed greater willingness to foster a relationship between the children and the mother and to improve his own parenting skills.

The father was reprsented by Kyle W. Barnett of Van DeWater & Van DeWater of Poughkeepsie. The mother was reprsented by Stanley Alter of Alter & Alter, L.L.P., of New York City. The children were reprsented by Reka Nori of Kingston.