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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