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New York Appeals Court Affirms Sole Custody Ruling on the Ground That Parents Cannot Effectively Communicate

On October 4th, 2019, the New York Appellate Division, Fourth Judicial Department denied a child custody appeal filed by a mother.


Syracuse, NY -- (ReleaseWire) -- 11/06/2019 --Thus granting a father sole legal custody and sole physical custody of the divorced couple's child. In the Matter of Keller v. Keller, the New York appeals court determined that the bad relationship between the parents made joint custody a practicable impossibility.

Acrimonious Parental Relationship Made Joint Custody Infeasible

In this case, the appeals court made it very clear that the parents had an acrimonious personal relationship. In the view of the court, they simply could not effectively communicate with each other regarding the child's needs and activities. The case law in New York is clear: If a conflict between the parents makes a joint custody arrangement infeasible, then sole custody can be awarded.

Notably, in many cases, New York courts will disfavor granting sole custody to the parent who is seen to be the "problem". In other words, the parent who refuses to communicate in a positive manner or who is seemingly incapable of doing so is less likely to be the party who is granted custody of the children.

New York Law: Best Interests of the Child Holds

Under New York law, child custody and visitation cases must be resolved using the state's best interests of the child legal standard. Through a totality of the circumstances assessment, courts will make custody and visitation decisions based on what is best for a child's physical safety, health, emotional well-being, and positive social development. In other words, the desires of the parents are always a secondary consideration. What is best for the children comes first.

Shared Custody is Preferred, But Sole Custody May Deemed Necessary

In most New York custody cases, the dispute is resolved through a joint custody or shared parenting arrangement. As by Syracuse child custody attorney Richard J. Bombardo, "New York presumes that it is in the best interests of the child to have positive, ongoing relationships with both of their parents. As such, some form of shared custody is usually deemed to be the best for the child. However, that is a rebuttable presumption. If the court determines that one parent is incapable of caring for their child or that the parents simply cannot work together, sole custody may be awarded."

Summary: Joint custody may not be feasible if parents are not able to communicate regarding their child's needs and activities.

New York Appellate Court Denies a Parental Alienation Claim

On October 9th, 2019, the New York Appellate Division, Second Judicial Department affirmed a lower court ruling in favor of a mother in a parental alienation claim. In the case of Pandis v. Lapas, the court determined that it was appropriate to award sole custody of the children to the mother. Additionally, it denied the father's claim for relief from child support on the grounds of parental alienation.

Sole Custody Was Awarded to the Mother

The couple involved in this case had two children together—one who had just finished high school and another who was a young teenager. In reviewing the evidence, the court awarded the mother sole custody and ruled that the father owed her $3,593.75 in child support and that he was responsible for covering more than two-thirds of the "add-on" expenses—which in this case meant contributing a significant amount to the younger child's private school tuition and to the older child's college tuition.

New York Recognizes Parental Alienation as a Serious Issue

Parental alienation is the process by which one parent—often maliciously—turns a child against the other parent. Essentially, it is a form of psychological manipulation. Of course, for obvious reasons, children are especially vulnerable to parental manipulation. With that in mind, New York courts acknowledge that parental alienation is a serious issue.

However, in this case, both a lower court and the appeals court determined that the father's parental alienation was without merit. While the court noted that the father's relationship with both children was indeed damaged, it also noted that the father's own conduct was the primary factor in causing the deterioration. Thus, parental alienation is not applicable.

Remedies for Parental Alienation Vary—May Include Termination of Child Support

The remedies for parental alienation will vary depending on the specific circumstances of the case. Often, courts will try to create a structure whereby a parent can rebuild their relationship with their children. However, that is not always possible nor is it always in the best interests of the children. To account for this, other remedies may also be available. As explained by Syracuse, NY child support lawyer Richard J. Bombardo, "One remedy to parental alienation is allowing the affected parent to obtain a reduction or termination of child support obligations. In fact, in several recent cases, New York courts have terminated child support on the grounds of parental alienation."