Following a custody/visitation dispute, a parent may assert a malpractice claim as a defense to the application for the payment of fees of the Attorney for the Children. However, in its December 5, 2013 opinion in Venecia V. v August V., the Appellate Division, First Department, held that no malpractice had been committed, and no hearing was required to reach that conclusion.

The parties were the divorced parents of three children, now ages 17, 14 and 11. In their divorce action, the trial court had directed that mother would have primary residential custody in the marital apartment in Manhattan. When the mother moved  for an order allowing her to relocate with the children to Demarest, New Jersey, approximately 12 miles outside Manhattan, the father responded by moving for a change of custody. Jo Ann Douglas was then appointed Attorney for the Children.

Among the decisions below, New York County Supreme Court Justice Matthew F. Cooper allowed the relocation. The father’s visitation schedule was modified to account for the children’s schedule, including various extracurricular activities that required them to be in New Jersey.

Opposing the fee application of the Attorney for the Child (“AFC”), the father claimed that attorney had committed malpractice. He claimed that the children’s attorney ignored her professional duty by advocating the position advanced by two out of the three children (that they wanted to relocate with their mother), when the children lacked the “capacity for knowing, voluntary and considered judgment.” The father also claimed that the AFC violated the rules governing professional conduct in matrimonial matters by ignoring “abundant evidence that her clients’ judgment was not voluntary and in fact was manipulated by their mother.” The father charged that the AFC ignored the forensic expert’s observations and conclusions that the mother controlled and manipulated the children, and purposely alienated the children from him. He further argued that the AFC failed to consider post-relocation events, engaged in improper ex parte communications with the court, and assisted the mother in reducing his visitation.


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Blending science, culture, compassion and philosophy with legal precedent, Justice Matthew F. Cooper, in his November 29, 2013 opinion in Travis v. Murray, agreed to hold a one-day, winner-take-all hearing to determine the fate of a divorcing couple’s dog, Joey, a two and a half year-old miniature dachshund.

Shannon Louise Travis and Trisha Bridget Murray were married on October 12, 2012. Before their marriage, they resided in the same Upper Manhattan apartment that they continued to occupy after the marriage. On February 6, 2011, while the parties were living together, but before they married, Ms. Travis bought Joey from a pet store. At the time of Joey’ purchase, he was a ten week-old puppy.

On June 11, 2013, defendant moved out of the marital apartment while plaintiff was away from New York on a business trip. Defendant took some furniture and personal possessions with her. She also took Joey. According to plaintiff, defendant first refused to tell her where Joey was, but then later claimed that she had lost him while walking in Central Park.

Ms. Travis filed this Supreme Court, New York County action for divorce on July 11, 2013. Two months later she made this motion requesting that Ms. Murray be directed to immediately account for Joey’s whereabouts since the date he was removed from the marital apartment, that he be returned to Ms. Travis’s “care and custody,” and that she be granted an “order of sole residential custody of her dog.” Once the motion was made, Ms. Murray revealed that Joey was never lost in Central Park, but instead was living with her mother in Freeport, Maine.

Philosophically, Justice Cooper noted:

People who love their dogs almost always love them forever. But with divorce rates at record highs, the same cannot always be said for those who marry. All too often, onetime happy spouses end up as decidedly unhappy litigants in divorce proceedings. And when those litigants own a dog, matrimonial judges are called upon more and more to decide what happens to the pet that each of the parties still loves and each of them still wants.


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The Appellate Division, Second Department, has held that a father’s application for sole custody and for supervised visitation for the mother, should not have been denied without a hearing, where the father had alleged that the mother operated a motor vehicle in a impaired state, posing a danger to the children.

In Nusbaum v. Nusbaum