Modification of a New York Child Custody Order Parental Alienation and Interference

two-girls-1528940When making custody determinations, a court is likely to consider whether a custodial parent is likely to encourage the child’s relationship with the noncustodial parent. It is considered in a child’s best interests to have a relationship with both parents. This means that a court will not look favorably upon a custodial parent who interferes with children’s relationship with the noncustodial parent. The noncustodial parent may have grounds to request a modification of a child custody order if the custodial parent tries to harm his or her relationship with the kids.

In Musachio v. Musachio, a New York married couple stipulated to a child custody settlement that was supposed to survive and not be merged into any divorce judgment that followed. The parties had agreed that they would have joint custody of their four children. The defendant (the mother) would have residential custody.

In 2008, the court granted the father’s application to get temporary sole custody of the four children. It also suspended his child support obligations based on information that the mother had interfered substantially with his relationship to their children.

An appellate court reversed finding that the custody transfer wasn’t in the kids’ best interests. The matter was returned to the lower court to hear a court-appointed therapist’s opinions about how to treat the children’s alienation from their father. The lower court held the hearing but granted temporary sole custody of two of his daughters to the father.

The divorce judgment modified the couple’s stipulation of settlement. The father was given permanent sole legal and residential custody of the two daughters. The court terminated his child support obligation to the two sons on the grounds that they were constructively emancipated. The mother appealed from parts of the judgment and order.

The appellate court explained that when you ask for a modification of an existing child custody order, you have to show that the totality of circumstances has changed since the existing custody determination was made and that they have changed such that the child’s best interests are served by the modification.

In all child custody cases, the court is most concerned with the child’s best interests. The court will only transfer custody through modification if it is in the child’s best interests. The court will look at the parties’ credibility and an appellate court will not disturb a trial court determination unless it lacks a sound reason as determined by the record. In this case, the appellate court reasoned the plaintiff showed the trial court a change of circumstances so that modification was necessary to make sure the two daughters’ bests interests were taken care of.

The record showed that the mother interfered in the father’s relationship with the girls in a way that was not in their best interests. It also showed the father was more likely than the mother to encourage a relationship between the mother and the daughters than the mother was to encourage a relationship between the father and the daughters.

If you need to guidance on child custody , child support, divorce and family law matters, contact the Law and Mediation Office of Darren M. Shapiro at 516-333-6555 or via our online form. Our principal Darren Shapiro is an experienced, compassionate family lawyer and mediator.

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