In this matter, a previous Family Court consent order had established joint legal and physical custody between the boy’s parents and awarded to the mother primary custody and “final decision-making authority for all major issues affecting the health, education and welfare of the child.” The parents had also agreed to a visitation schedule.
A year and a half later, the father petitioned for sole custody, and the mother cross-petitioned for sole custody. The father’s petition contained a litany of minor verbal exchanges between the parents; complaints with people and institutions within neither parent’s control – such as schools, camps and doctors’ offices – and a list of other petty grievances. The mother’s cross-petition recounted the father’s harassment of her, including repeated cursing, name-calling, criticism and demeaning behavior; repeated revivals of previous irrelevant and resolved issues; threats of constant litigation; and, in general, behavior that, in the mother’s words, made it “difficult and sometimes impossible to try to co-parent with him, as it is unpleasant to communicate with him when being constantly belittled, harassed and insulted.” The mother’s petition also alleged that she had suffered detrimental physical reactions to the father’s behavior.
Following an agreed-to “summary trial,” Family Court determined that it was in the best interests of the child to modify the previous order and awarded sole legal custody to the mother, including the continuation of sole decision-making authority. Family Court was “extremely concerned about the ongoing hostility and anger” displayed by the father toward the mother, “a level of animosity that makes co-parenting an impossibility.”
The father appealed, and studiously ignored the ample record demonstrating his hostile behavior. Feldman, Kleidman, Collins & Sappe LLP (FKC&S) argued in response that “the record speaks for itself,” and plainly demonstrated that the father was incapable of co-parenting.
In affirming the Family Court custody order, the Appellate Division noted that the parties’ relationship had “continued to deteriorate since the… prior order, and that the father habitually insulted and belittled the mother when she tried to communicate with him about the child.” This deterioration, the appellate court held, was a “change in circumstances” warranting a change in the joint custody arrangement, which was no longer appropriate given the father’s “acrimony” and his “demonstrated inability to cooperate on matters concerning the child.” The court noted that the mother made appropriate decisions about the child, while “the father appeared to be guided by his anger toward the mother rather than the child’s well-being.”
Though FKC&S does not typically represent litigants in Family Court, this case was referred to the firm because its expert team of appellate attorneys can handle any appeal. The firm’s Appellate Law department can handle appeals from any court, on any subject matter. If you or your attorney are looking for a lawyer with many years of experience handling appeals, consider reaching out to FKC&S at 845-897-5199. To learn more about the firm and read individual attorneys’ bios, visit fkcs.law.