Articles Posted in Child Custody

Parents have an obligation to keep their children safe and to make sure that a child’s naiveté does not put them in harm’s way. At the same time, most parents want to encourage some level of independence to help develop a child’s decision-making skills. In today’s society, with the prevalence of cellular phones, text messaging, instant messaging, and the like, the question of a parent’s right (and in some cases, obligation) to monitor their children’s phone use frequently comes up.

The general rule is that a parent is able to monitor their children’s cell phone use, including the text messages that have been sent and received. This can be done in a number of ways. The easiest way for a parent to view a child’sLegal News Gavel text messages is to simply scroll through the child’s phone. Parents can also view a log of all of the messages sent and received in most carriers’ monthly billing statements or online. There are also apps that allow for parents to monitor a child’s phone activity remotely.

Thus far, we have discussed monitoring a child’s cell phone activity to keep tabs on with whom they are talking and what they are saying. However, if a parent wants to use text messages in a New York family law proceeding, other issues may arise.

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Many New York family law cases involve a child custody dispute. Most often, these disputes arise when the parents of a child or children go through a divorce and argue over who has primary custody of the children. However, in some cases, grandparents seek visitation or custody of a child. This may be after a divorce or even while the child’s parents are still together.

Legal News GavelIn previous posts, we have discussed under which situations a court may award visitation or custody to grandparents. As previously noted, grandparents do not have a “right” to the custody of their grandchildren. Thus, custody will only be awarded to a grandparent if certain factors are present. Among others, a court must determine that awarding custody to a grandparent or grandparents is in the best interests of the child.

How Do Courts Determine What Is in the Best Interests of a Child?

Judges know the law. However, very few judges are trained in psychology, and fewer still are able to glean sufficient knowledge of a family’s dynamics through the evidence presented to the court. For example, much of the evidence presented in a New York custody case may be limited to text on a page, which may not provide a judge with much knowledge of the relationships between the parents, children, and grandparents. Additionally, any live-witness testimony has the potential to be biased or fabricated.

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Most New York child visitation cases involve courts establishing the rights and obligations of the parents as they relate to each other. However, New York family law does contemplate a situation in which a court can order visitation for a child’s grandparents under certain situations. This may even be the case when the custodial parents are against the establishment of such visitation rights.

Legal News GavelNew York Domestic Relations Law Section 72

As a general matter, section 72 of the New York Domestic Relations Law provides that visitation or custody rights may be appropriate for the grandparents of certain minor children. Subsection 1 deals with visitation rights. This subsection begins by discussing the procedure in a situation in which one or both of the child’s parents have died.

However, this subsection also allows for courts to award visitation to the grandparents even in situations in which one or both of the parents are alive, if the court determines that “equity would see fit to intervene.” This second scenario presents a more interesting situation in which the parents of a child are still alive, and at least one parent is against the issuance of visitation rights to the grandparents. Of course, as is often the case in New York family law matters, the court must also determine that grandparent visitation would be in the best interest of the child.

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Ever since the time that DNA testing has been recognized as a reliable method of determining paternity, family courts across the country have relied upon the testing to resolve disputes over paternity. Indeed, the New York Family Court Act discusses the availability of DNA testing for the purposes of establishing paternity in section 532.

Legal News GavelIn fact, section 532 requires family law judges or magistrates to advise all parties of their right to request DNA testing in paternity cases, instructing that the court “shall” order testing when any party requests it. That being said, the statute also prohibits DNA testing when the judge determines that testing is not in the best interest of the child based on certain enumerated reasons.

As noted above, parties have a right to a paternity test, and a test will be ordered if any party makes such a request. Additionally, the court can, on its own motion, order paternity testing even if neither party has requested it.

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In an earlier post, we discussed some of the issues that may arise when a sperm donor seeks to establish the parental rights of a child. One of those issues arises when a sperm donor seeks to establish parental rights. This is complicated by the fact that New York does not generally enforce contracts between sperm donors and the couples using the donor’s sperm on the basis that such contracts are against public policy.

Legal News GavelThis post follows up on that topic with a discussion of a recent case issued by a New York court, which acts as the most recent example of how courts treat the parental rights of sperm donors versus the woman (or family) who gives birth to the child.

The Facts of the Case

A same-sex lesbian couple arranged to have an acquaintance provide them with a sperm sample so that the couple could have a baby. Since the agreement did not go through a sperm bank or a licensed medical professional, the couple drew up their own contract without the assistance of legal advice. The contract waived the donor’s parental rights, as well as any rights to visitation. The contract also waived the couple’s right to seek child support from the donor.

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Child custody issues are often the most hotly contested area in divorce and family law cases. It would stand to reason, then, that New York child custody issues are not limited to situations in which the biological parents of the child are in a relationship – or even know each other.

Legal News GavelWith the advent of recent medical developments over the past few decades, couples who thought they may never be able to have children are able to give birth to a child through various means. Of course, this includes same-sex couples relying on donated sperm. However, with these recent developments, child custody issues have arisen, requiring New York courts to come up with ad hoc methods of resolving these child custody conflicts.

As a general matter, if someone goes through a doctor for the artificial insemination process, there is little to worry about in terms of the sperm donor later seeking custody of a child. Similarly, a sperm donor probably has little to worry about the parents seeking to enforce a paternity action. This is because the contract between the sperm donor and the business or organization accepting and storing the sperm provides for the termination of any parental rights the donor may otherwise have. Thus, to try to ensure that there will not be any problems in the future, parents who hope to conceive through artificial insemination are advised to use an official medical provider to do so.  However, it is possible that if somehow the anonymous donor was identified that the court might allow a paternity action to be maintained against him.  How that case would play out is not clear at this time under New York law.

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It is rarely the case that both parties agree in a New York child custody proceeding. More often than not, one party initiates the proceeding, leaving the non-filing party a choice of how to proceed. If the non-filing party believes that they have a claim against the party that filed the original petition, they should be sure to include their claim in a response to the original petition or, if the claim is only tangentially related, file a cross-petition.

Legal News GavelNew York Civil Practice Laws and Rules section 602 discusses the consolidation of related matters. Specifically, the statute allows for a court to consolidate matters “involving a common question of law or fact.” Importantly, courts are left with discretion regarding whether to consolidate multiple issues. However, section 602 does provide some guidance, indicating that the purpose of consolidation is to “avoid unnecessary costs or delay.”

An Example

Husband and wife have been divorced for several years. Currently, husband has primary physical custody, and wife has visitation privileges. Husband filed a petition in a New York court, asking the judge to order that wife’s future visits with the children are supervised by the court. In response, wife may ask the court to modify the original order to grant her primary custody.

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When going through the process of a divorce or family law dispute in New York, it’s important to make sure that you fully understand what your rights and responsibilities are as a client. TheMeeting-300x200 more you know, the more you can make an informed decision about your future. Therefore, a divorce lawyer will always provide his clients with a document known as the “Clients Rights and Responsibilities” form. The document is prescribed by the Appellate Division, and it’s provided at the initial conference, before any retainer agreements are signed.  I am attaching a link to the complete Statement of Clients Rights and Responsibilities here, while this blog is intended to highlight some of the features.

When I give my clients the “Clients Rights and Responsibilities” document, it’s intended to give that individual not only an insight into what they’re entitled to by law, but also what is expected from them. Of course, it’s always possible for my clients to come to me with any questions they might have about their rights or responsibilities, or the case that they will be addressing with me in the future. It’s well within the rights of any family law client to speak to their divorce attorney, child custody attorney or family lawyer if they have any concerns or questions about the manner in which their case is handled.  I endeavor to make myself available.  One of the rights people have is that an attorney never has the right to refuse your case based on creed, color, sex, orientation, origin, race, or disability. Continue reading

In today’s society, it is very common for families to move between states, especially when a couple’s children are young and parents are still developing their careers. While it has become easier over the past few decades for families to move between states, this situation presents a potentially complex situation if the couple divorces and one of the parents moves out of the state.

Legal News GavelYears ago, courts in different states were routinely entering conflicting orders in New York child custody cases. For example, a New York court may make an initial determination, only to have the non-custodial parent move out of the state and file a case in that court for a modification of the order. Under the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the U.S. Constitution, the court in the non-custodial parent’s new home state should defer to the New York court; however, in practice, that was not always the case.

The result was the eventual passage of the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act of 1997 (UCCJEA). The UCCJEA developed a system that has since been adopted by 49 states, including New York, which courts use to determine which state has jurisdiction over a child custody case.

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While any person’s definition of “family” might be unique to them, it’s important to remember that it’s the court of Woman-Couple-Pregnant-300x200New York’s delineation that matters most when decisions are to be made around child custody, parenting time, and visitation. As a child custody attorney, I’ve been involved with several complex cases around how a child should be supported and raised by people within their family. As I have reminded my clients in the past, up until now, only a “parent” – as dictated by the courts, will be able to petition for visitation or custody according to the outlines of Domestic Relations Law § 70. Perhaps one of the issues that makes this idea so complicated, however, is that Domestic Relations Law § 70 does not define what a “parent” is. This means that the courts need to determine that for themselves.

In issues presented to the courts of New York, except for in the case of “extraordinary circumstances” a parent should prevail over a non-parent in a custody battle. The law, up until now, is that for unmarried couples, partners that have no biological adoptive connection with the child had no standing to seek parenting time and custody. However, extraordinary circumstances like abandonment of the child, surrender of parenting rights, and more can alter the situation. The court of Appeals in New York highlighted the definition of parentage in New York in the case of Alison D. v Virginia M., 572 NE2d 27 (N.Y. 1991). However, this outline has become less applicable in a modern world, where the family relationship is now more varied and complex than ever. The case that presented the previous definition of “parent” was established in 1991, and since then, times have changed significantly. Continue reading