While the law in the state of New York generally gives parents a custody claim to their children that supersedes anyone else, there are exceptions to this rule. The law recognizes several situations where the custody of a child should go to a non-parent even though a parent desires custody. That was the situation in a recent case before the Appellate Division, Third Department, where the court decided that a girl should remain in the custody of her aunt, since extraordinary circumstances existed, and the best interests of the child favored keeping her with her aunt.
The custody of the baby girl born to Jeffrey and Mandy Battisti in 2002 was always non-traditional. From the time she was born, the child spent much of her time living with the father’s sister, Janis Battisti, who provided for all of the child’s needs. This arrangement had the consent of both parents. In 2007, the Family Court gave legal custody of the child to the aunt, with the parents receiving visitation.
In 2011, the mother went to court, seeking custody of the child. The Family Court rejected her request and left the child in the custody of the aunt. The mother’s appeal was denied. Biological parents have custody rights that are superior anyone else. When a non-parent petitions the court seeking the custody of a child, they must first establish the existence of extraordinary circumstances (called “standing”) before the court permits them to participate in the actual child custody trial.
The non-parent must prove to the court the existence of these extraordinary circumstances in order for the court to to permit them to seek the custody of a child at a contested custody hearing. In the case of the Battisti child, contrary to the argument of the mother, the aunt established that the extraordinary circumstances existed. Specifically, the child had lived most of her life with the aunt, the parents “withdrew almost completely from the parental role for an extended period of time,” and the child shared a very close bond with her aunt, who provided all of her financial, educational, and medical support. This medical support included caring for the child’s special needs, which included a serious kidney issue that required constant monitoring. These facts were enough to meet the extraordinary circumstances requirement (also known as “standing”).
Determining that sufficient extraordinary circumstances exist to allow non-parents the right to petition the court for an award of sole custody and to be able to participate at a contested child custody hearing, where the court determines what is in the best interests of the child. In the Battisti case, the court determined that child’s best interests would be served by awarding custody to her aunt. One factor in determining best interests is stability, and the child’s stability would be best fostered in the aunt’s home, where she had formed a close bond not only with her aunt but also with her paternal grandparents, who lived nearby. Other factors are the quality of each home and the relative fitness of each party. In this case, the aunt provided a higher-quality home, since the child had twice witnessed her father abuse her mother, and the father continued to have issues with alcohol abuse.
Child custody cases frequently are highly emotional and hotly contested. In the end, the goal of all parties involved should be serving the best interests of the child. If you are facing a custody dispute, consult New York family law attorney Ingrid Gherman. She has the experience and skill to help you and your family find workable solutions that will best serve the needs of your family, especially your children.
Contact her online or by calling (212) 941-0767 to schedule your confidential consultation.
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Husband Loses Millions in Separate Property Credits Due to Prenuptial Agreement’s Use of ‘The’, New York Divorce Attorney Blog, Dec. 18, 2014