Articles Posted in Child custody & visitation

child custody

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In child custody cases, New York law requires judges to use the “best interests of the child” standard. Chances are you’ve heard that phrase. But what, really, does that mean for you in your child custody case? The reality is that it can mean different things in different situations. The things a judge will consider, and the weight the court will give them, can vary depending on certain factual details like a child’s age and maturity. If a child is older and appears mature to the judge, that child’s express wishes will go a long way in deciding what is in his or her best interests. His or her wishes, however, will not automatically decide the case; the court will still look at many factors. To make sure that you are properly prepared to protect your interests and the interests of your loved ones in your custody case, make sure to retain an experienced New York child custody attorney.

A recently decided New York City case involving a Brooklyn family provides a real-life example of how courts will decide custody cases involving mature, older children. The parents in the case were married in 1997, and the husband filed for divorce 15 years later. The couple had one child, born relatively early in the marriage. Eventually, law enforcement arrested the mother for embezzling more than $80,000 from the PTA at the daughter’s school, where the mother was the treasurer. After failing to make required restitution payments, the mother was eventually incarcerated for a time. After her release, the mother sought and obtained an office in the PTA at the daughter’s new high school, only to resign after the media discovered her troubled past.

marriage dispute

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For parents going through a divorce, going through the legal process can be very challenging. One way to minimize some of the stress and difficulty can be to work out as many issues as possible through an agreement with your spouse. Of course, it is almost always a wise idea to consult and retain an experienced New York child custody attorney before you agree to anything that may affect your rights or your relationship with your children.

Settlement agreements are generally enforced in accordance with whatever the couple put down on paper. However, what happens if you agree to live a certain lifestyle and practice a specific religion (or sect of a religion) but then experience changes in your life? That was the issue before the Appellate Division recently.

behind bars

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Custody battles are stressful for the parties. Whether you are navigating the legal system for the first time, or you have been embroiled in a custody dispute for several years, it is critical that you have a knowledgeable and seasoned attorney by your side. With more than 30 years of experience assisting New York residents with family law issues, attorney Ingrid Gherman is prepared to help you assert your legal rights in a child custody dispute.

A recent New York child custody opinion discusses the impact that the incarceration of one parent has on his or her visitation rights. The facts of the case are as follows. A father filed a visitation petition against the mother of their seven-year-old autistic son, seeking visitation rights. The parents resided in an apartment in the Bronx, where they had one child. Roughly three months after the child was born, the father moved out of the apartment and made attempts to be part of the infant son’s life. After some time, however, his attempts stopped.

The father filed a custody petition in 2009 and another in 2010. Both were dismissed without prejudice. In response to the petitions, the mother decided to allow the father visits with the child during his day off. The father would pick up the child from the apartment and then drop him off later that day. The visits continued until the father became incarcerated in 2011 after being convicted for the murder of an ex-girlfriend’s three-year-old child. In that case, the father was accused of hitting the victim repeatedly because she was not listening to him and refusing to eat. He was also accused of failing to seek medical attention for the victim. The father did not see his child for seven years after his initial incarceration, although a program allowed for inmates to have visits with their children. The father did, however, join a waiting list for parenting classes and anger management classes.

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lgbtq parents

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New York family law is experiencing tremendous shifts that are affecting child custody disputes between same-sex partners. One New York Court of Appeals decision in particular, Matter of Brooke S.B., significantly expanded parental standing rights for same-sex partners in 2016. In what is described as a logical extension of that case, the New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division, First Department issued a recent decision, holding that a legally married same-sex couple that enters into a jointly executed surrogacy agreement receives the presumption that the child is the legitimate child of both partners.

In Carlos A. v. Han Ming T., the appellant and respondent lived together in the United Kingdom, where they entered into a civil union. Years later, their civil union was converted into a legal marriage and backdated as of 2008. In 2013, the couple entered into an egg donor and surrogacy agreement. Both partners contributed sperm. The embryo that was eventually transferred to the surrogate was only fertilized with the appellant’s sperm. The child was born in 2014. The appellant and respondent lived as a family together until 2015, when the respondent returned to the United Kingdom in search of a job. The appellant then started a relationship with another person and moved to New York while the respondent was in the United Kingdom. The appellant’s new partner commenced a New York adoption petition for the child.

child custody

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Child abuse is taken very seriously under New York law. In fact, certain professionals are required to report suspected cases of child abuse or maltreatment. The law grants qualified immunity to a professional making reports of suspected child abuse. However, a recent New York lawsuit alleged that a false report about the plaintiff’s medical condition led to the removal of her two children from her custody. This case highlights the New York child custody implications of the mandatory reporting statute.

The plaintiff was brought to the emergency room by New York City police officers. She was in emotional turmoil after being sexually assaulted on the subway that morning. Medical professionals in the emergency room allegedly inaccurately diagnosed the plaintiff as suffering from schizophrenia, bi-polar disorder, and manic depression personality disorder and advised New York City Child Protective Services of the diagnosis.

adoption

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As previously discussed on this blog, New York’s highest court recently issued the landmark New York child custody decision Matter of Brooke S.B., which expanded the definition of a “parent” under Section 70 of the New York Domestic Relations Law. The court ruled that a same-sex partner of a child’s biological parent could be considered a “parent,” if the parties agreed to share child-raising responsibilities. Following that ruling, a New York court decided Gunn v. Hamilton, which applied Matter of Brooke S.B. to determine custody of a same-sex couple’s adopted child.

The parties’ relationship began in 2007 and ended in 2009. During the course of their relationship, they planned to adopt and raise a child together. However, before they could adopt a child, the relationship deteriorated. In fact, the parties memorialized the breakup with a separation agreement, which was finalized in May 2010.

In the next year, the respondent moved forward with the adoption process and finalized the adoption in August 2011. When the respondent and her adopted child returned to New York, the petitioner became involved in the child’s life. The parties never entered into a formal custody sharing agreement, and when the respondent decided to move from New York to England, the petitioner filed a lawsuit for joint custody, the setting of a visitation schedule, and ancillary relief.

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In a recent opinion, a New York court considered whether the dismissal of a petition alleging that two guardians of a minor engaged in neglect and corporal punishment was appropriate.

In October 2016, the Administration of Child Services (ACS) initiated an Article 10 proceeding on behalf of a minor against her paternal uncle and grandmother. Under New York law, all matters involving neglect are governed by Article 10 and heard exclusively in Family Court. The petition alleged that the grandmother and uncle were charged with overseeing the child’s care pursuant to the Family Court Act and that the defendants failed to meet their duty. The petition also alleged that the defendants engaged in neglect and inflicted corporal punishment on the minor. More specifically, the petition stated that the grandmother commanded the uncle to strike the minor four times after the child allegedly touched a cake. The petition claimed that the child’s legs showed marks and bruising. Ultimately, the defendants admitted that they no longer wished to care for the minor or to have her in their home.

The defendants denied the allegations during an appearance in court. The minor was ultimately remanded to the care of the commissioner. During another conference that took place in January 2017, the attorney for ACS stated that the defendants would undergo classes on parenting skills and be allowed to undertake supervised visits with the minor. The uncle rejected this plan, indicating that he did not intend to serve in a parental role regarding the minor. The grandmother also rejected the plan, wishing to terminate her relationship with the child.

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Under New York law, both of a child’s parents have rights regarding custody and visitation, as well as obligations regarding support. As the legal landscape regarding marriage changes and evolves, the definition of “parent” has also evolved. More than 20 years ago, the New York Court of Appeals held in Alison D. v. Virginia M. that only biological or adoptive parents have standing to petition for visitation. In the summer of 2016, the court overturned this precedent in Matter of Brooke S.B., allowing the former same-sex partner of a child’s biological mother to petition for visitation. The petitioner had a longstanding relationship with the child that continued for years after her relationship with the biological mother ended, and the court recognized that she could be considered a “parent” under the law.

Section 70 of the New York Domestic Relations Law states that “either parent” of a child may petition a court to make orders regarding custody and visitation rights. The statute does not, however, provide a distinct definition of a “parent.” In 1991, the Court of Appeals ruled in Alison D. that a “biological stranger to a child” is not a “parent” within the meaning of § 70 and therefore lacks standing to seek visitation rights.

The petitioner in Alison D. was involved in a romantic relationship with the respondent. They decided to have a child together, and the respondent conceived via artificial insemination. She gave birth to a boy in July 1981. The child took the petitioner’s last name, despite the lack of any legal relationship between them. The petitioner and respondent ended their relationship in 1983, but they worked out an agreement for visitation and support payments by the petitioner. This lasted several years, but eventually the respondent cut off the petitioner’s access to the child. The petitioner sought a court order under § 70 for visitation. Even though the child knew both the respondent and the petitioner as “Mommy,” the court denied the petition for lack of standing.

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The right of same-sex couples to marry has been the law of the land throughout the United State for almost two years, when the U.S. Supreme Court issued its decision in Obergefell v. Hodges. While the court noted in Obergefell that most states already allowed adoption and fostering by same-sex couples and gay or lesbian individuals, some states continue to prohibit it. The Nebraska Supreme Court recently issued a decision, Stewart v. Heineman, overturning a state policy prohibiting gay and lesbian people from serving as foster parents. While this ruling only applies to Nebraska, it is another important step forward for the rights of same-sex couples.

A federal district court struck down a Mississippi law banning adoption by same-sex couples last year, but no nationwide standard yet applies in this regard. A U.S. Supreme Court decision from 2016, E.L. v. V.L., held that states must recognize out-of-state adoptions by same-sex couples, but the Supreme Court has not considered the constitutionality of gay adoption or gay fostering bans within a state. A Nebraska policy regarding fostering therefore remained in effect after both Obergefell and E.L.

The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) issued an administrative memorandum in 1995, titled Memo 1-95, directing the department not to make foster placements “in the homes of persons who identify themselves as homosexuals.” The memo further directed the department not to license such persons as foster homes. According to the Nebraska Supreme Court’s decision in Stewart, state officials had generally concluded that Memo 1-95 was unenforceable with regard to licensing.

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Adoptions often end joyfully with the creation of a new family, but they often originate from tragedy. A child in an adoption proceeding may have been orphaned or removed from their birth parents’ home because of abuse or neglect. As happy as the adoption may be, the child is likely to have questions about their origins. New York law makes answers difficult to find for multiple reasons. Some of those reasons make sense in the New York of 2017, while others clearly originated in an earlier era. The principles that led to the establishment of these rules continue to influence New York’s family laws, particularly those involving child custody and child support.

Under § 114 of the New York Domestic Relations Law (DRL), records of adoptions involving an authorized adoption agency are sealed upon the completion of the adoption. Access to these records is almost entirely prohibited without a court order, which courts may only grant in very limited circumstances. A court clerk may issue a certificate of adoption to authorized individuals or agencies, but the certificate may only include a child’s new name, the names of the adoptive parents, and information about the adoption proceeding itself. It may not disclose the child’s pre-adoption name, nor may it disclose any information about the child’s birth parents.

The New York County Surrogate’s Court provided an overview of the history of this statute in footnote 34 of a 2007 ruling, Matter of Doe. The court noted that the statute, first enacted in 1924 and amended in 1938, “reflect[ed] in part the mores of the day.” The purpose of sealing adoption records, according to the court, included protection of the adoptive parents from interference by the birth parents, as well as protection of the birth parents’ privacy. Other reasons, however, included “shielding [the birth parents] from the humiliation of public knowledge of unwanted pregnancies or inability to support” and “shield[ing] the adopted child from the stigmatization of illegitimacy.” This type of rationale is, hopefully, less relevant in the 21st century than the 1920s.

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