Articles Posted in Child Custody

Today almost half of all births in the United States occur outside of marriage. This is the new normal but the law hasn’t necessarily caught up. Laws vary by state on parental rights for non-married parents. In New York, biological parents do not have automatic parental rights or obligations to their children, including child support and child custody, or the right to make important decisions about the child’s future such as education, health care and religion. Parents either have to agree on these issues, or a court will do it for them.

Healthy co-parenting that stems from thoughtful agreements you’ve made together is in the best interests of your child and makes both the parents and the child feel secure. If you have a child and are not legally married to the other biological parent, you need legal protection to clearly define each parent’s rights and responsibilities.

A well-written parenting and child support agreement is a roadmap of how you will raise and support your child together while living in separate homes and will help you avoid costly, stressful and time-consuming litigation.

Couples who are divorcing strive to make decisions in the best interest of the children. However, co-parenting after a divorce is challenging and parents are people too: sometimes they make bad decisions when it comes to their children which they later come to regret. You can avoid causing your child the anxiety and pain of parental alienation by avoiding these specific actions.

1. Do not speak negatively about the other parent or his or her family.

It’s likely that your list of grievances with your ex-spouse and ex-in-laws will be long and complicated, but your child does not need to know that.  This is true even if there was physical or emotional abuse in your relationship that the child witnessed first-hand. A therapist who understands child development can help you determine exactly how you should talk to your child about what he or she witnessed based on your family’s unique circumstances.

Nothing could be worse than a very public divorce – except for a very public custody battle. Every detail of Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt’s courtship, marriage, childrearing and divorce have been chronicled in the newspapers, so sadly it is no surprise that their child custody dispute is now making headlines.

While the court documents are rightly closed to the public, the latest custody ruling appears to provide Pitt with increased time with his children and limits the amount of involvement Jolie can have with his interactions. According to published reports, “a judge in the couple’s ongoing divorce case said the six children not having a relationship with their father is harmful to them… it is critical that each of them have a healthy and strong relationship with their father and mother.”

The issue appears to be parental alienation, a common side-effect of an adversarial divorce. As I stated in a previous post, parental alienation may not always be intentional, but it always causes harm.

Conspiracy theorist Alex Jones has been in the news lately, and it’s not just for the warped claims he makes on his website and television show “Info Wars.” (Outlets which regularly disseminate Jones’ claims that “9/11 was an inside job”; the school shooting in Newtown, CT was a hoax; and that the government can control the weather and use it against its people.) Instead, Jones has been making headlines because of a custody battle with his ex-wife, Kelly Nichols, who is the mother of his three children.

Earlier this year, Nichols asked a Texas court to award her custody, claiming that Jones’ bizarre behavior, both on and off the air—and his ongoing campaign to alienate their children from her—showed he was an unfit parent. She claimed he was emotionally unstable and incapable of providing a nurturing home, and that he was purposely instilling deep emotional abuse upon the children by “erasing positive memories” of their mother. For his part, Jones claimed his on-air persona is a character, that many of his theories are sarcastic, and that it was Nichols who was an unfit parent.

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An interesting decision out of Suffolk County recently established custodial rights of a non-biological parent who was part of a polyamorous relationship. In Dawn M. v. Michael M., the court essentially affirmed the validity of a non-traditional family composed of two women and one man.

Though their names have been revealed in the media, for our purposes we will call the family members Mom 1, Mom 2, Dad, and Child.

Mom 1 and Dad were a married couple who had attempted to conceive with great difficulty. They utilized in vitro fertilization, but unfortunately Mom 1 miscarried. It was after this that the couple befriended Mom 2, who eventually moved into the lower level of the duplex that Mom 1 and Dad occupied. The three grew close and eventually came to consider themselves a family. Mom 2 moved into the upstairs flat a short time later.

After some discussion, the trio decided to go back to the infertility doctor in order to inseminate Mom 2 with Dad’s sperm—but the doctor refused to take part because Dad and Mom 2 were not married. So they decided to do it the old-fashioned way.

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Kafkaesque: of, relating to, or suggestive of Franz Kafka or his writings; especially: having a nightmarishly complex, bizarre, or illogical quality, as in Kafkaesque bureaucratic delays.
(Miriam-Webster online dictionary)

As ProPublica recently revealed in detail, Kafka’s dystopian vision is a terrifying reality for many New Yorkers who have had judges appoint forensic psychologists in their custody dispute cases.

In Joaquin Sapien’s thorough (and thoroughly disturbing) article, For New York Families in Custody Fights, a ‘Black Hole’ of Oversight, he reports on the story of a mother separated from her son as a result of an error-filled and incomplete analysis made by a court-appointed forensic psychologist.

In New York, if parents have custody disputes that they cannot resolve on their own, they go to Family Court or Supreme Court. These courts often appoint (and the parties pay for) a forensic psychologist to interview the parents, the child, and other people in their lives such as teachers, caregivers and grandparents. The purpose of these interviews is to help the psychologist make an analysis and issue a report that is meant to help the judge decide what custody determination would be in the best interests of a child.

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Before marriage was made available to every American, same-sex couples struggled with issues that married couples could take for granted – like hospital visitation rights, after-death services and inheritance rights.

In order to achieve that same peace of mind that married couples enjoy, gays and lesbians came up with some brilliant solutions to bridge the dire straits in which they found themselves. In New York City, the government began a Domestic Partnership registry which granted hospital visitation, health insurance coverage and the inheritance of rent-controlled apartments, among other things. But because those provisions only applied to government-run agencies, lesbians and gays took matters into their own hands to protect themselves and their partners in the private sector through the use of wills, healthcare proxies and burial instructions. Continue reading

What looks like just another celebrity breakup might actually be instructive for any divorcing couple.

Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner are going the way of Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin in choosing a non-adversarial way to divorce while living in the public eye.

During her divorce, Paltrow made headlines for describing the process as “conscious uncoupling.” Many attorneys, including myself, appreciated the spotlight she had shone on non-adversarial divorce.

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A recent article in The Huffington Post summarized a University of Missouri study that analyzed the way divorced parents use technology to facilitate (or hinder) their co-parenting arrangements. According to the study, parents with effective communication used technology to improve parent-parent communication as well as parent-child access, while parents with ineffective communication used technology to frustrate both their relationship with the other parent and the other parent’s relationship with the children. Establishing positive communication practices between spouses not only maintains a level of civility between the parents; it also provides a more pleasant environment for the children. Whether a couple engaged in litigation, mediation, or collaborative methods in obtaining their divorce, limiting post-divorce conflict between parents is imperative to helping children adjust.

Below are some tips for using communication technology effectively as a tool to foster positive and successful co-parenting arrangements and limit conflict:

• E-mail: E-mail can be a useful way for divorced parents to communicate with each other. Risks inherent in telephone communication are largely absent in e-mail communication: telephone conversations can be impulsive and rash, and since they are generally not recorded, a parent may feel entitled to make any manner of accusation toward his or her ex. Parents can also use the telephone to avoid communication, by ignoring phone calls and voice messages. By contrast, e-mail affords a parent with the ability to express himself or herself, then edit the message to ensure that only a calm, rational tone is used. E-mail also provides a communication trail, which makes it more likely that a parent will limit his or her hostility.

Clients often ask what role a child’s wishes should (or do) play when one parent is considering moving them to a new location, away from the other parent. A New York Court has recently issued a thoughtful decision regarding this issue.

New York law tells us that when considering a custodial parent’s request to relocate, several factors need to be examined to determine what is in the child’s best interests. In addition to the child’s wishes, other important factors to consider include the reason that the parent is seeking to move, how the move would impact the quality and quantity of the child’s contact with the other parent, and the potential economic, educational and emotional enhancement of the child if the move were to take place.

In Byron v. Davis , the Court considered the request of a mother who had primary residential custody of her children, to move them from Rochester, NY to Washington, DC so that she could accept a position as an associate dean at a university. The job offered substantial career advancement and doubled the Mother’s salary. The Father objected to the relocation on the basis that it would substantially interfere with his relationship with his 11 and 14 year-old sons. The Court found that both parents were loving and caring parents and both offered valid reasons for their positions regarding whether it was in the children’s best interests to stay in Rochester or move to Washington DC. For the Court, the decision came down to the desires of the children.