Child Custody

Monday, September 21, 2015

Parents Admonished for Dragging Out Son’s Divorce Case

Can grandparents or other third parties get involved in family members’ divorce litigation?

In one recent New York case, meddling paternal grandparents became so entrenched in their son’s ongoing divorce litigation that the case dragged out for nearly 5 years and resulted in sanctions against their attorneys (not to mention massive civil fines).

The couple involved were married in 2005, but things quickly began to unravel when the husband experienced a life-threatening brain aneurysm. Throughout the ordeal, his wife and his parents vehemently disagreed on various aspects of his medical care, and the wife ended up seeking divorce a few years later. As a result of the conflict between the wife and her in-laws, she sought physical custody of their minor child with the right to exclude the paternal grandparents visitation at her discretion.

Upon hearing of this plan to potentially exclude them from their grandchild's life, the paternal grandparents made it their mission to drag out the divorce proceedings for as long as possible, instructing their counsel to “go after the mother with a vengeance.” After several years of legal wrangling, the court demanded to know who was paying the husband’s legal fees – and it was ultimately revealed that his father (a retired healthcare executive) was footing the bill for this apparently neverending divorce case.

While the facts above are well outside the norm, it is not uncommon for grandparents to get involved in divorce cases under New York’s third-party visitation laws. Under the law, grandparents with a close, established interpersonal relationship with their grandchild may be able to petition the court on their own behalf to establish legal rights to visit their grandchild – even if the parents are separated or divorced. These laws may also apply to other third parties such as aunts, uncles or former stepparents, provided the petitioner can prove a bond with the child.

If you are facing a difficult or unusually complicated divorce situation and would like to speak to an experienced New York family law attorney about a custody or visitation matter, please contact attorney Howard B. Leff, P.C. today: 516-739-7500.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Judge Sends Children to Juvenile Detention Amid Parents’ Custody Battle

Can children be taken from parents during a custody battle?

If expectations are not managed or parents fail to follow the terms of the agreement, child custody cases can quickly turn contentious between parents. However, a recent case out of Michigan illustrates one of the more extreme examples of custody litigation gone awry – and showcases the extent of animosity between parties as they fight it out over physical and legal custody of the children. As this case also points out, the true victims in an unmanaged child custody battle are usually the children caught in between – and our office works diligently to ensure that no custody case takes the unbelievable turns that occurred in the instance described below. 

Amid court battle, judge orders permanent juvenile detention

The facts of the custody case begin in 2008 when mother and father of three children went through a divorce, resulting in physical placement of the children with the mother and joint legal custody shared between both parents. The father was entitled to visitation on an intermittent basis, and was sometimes required to submit to supervised visits. 

Allegedly, the mother failed to arrive at a scheduled visit with the father – and this was becoming a common occurrence within the family. However, upon the father’s filing of a contempt of court action against the mother, the court inexplicably ordered the children remanded to a juvenile detention facility, separate from one another, and cut off from virtually all contact with the outside world.

In a frenzied hurry, the mother’s attorney filed a writ of habeas corpus against the judge, demanding the children be released to the custody of their parents. 

As of July 10, 2015, the same judge has ordered the children released, apparently to the custody of a summer camp. It is unclear whether either parent will continue physical placement with the children. 

Regardless of the outcome of this particular case, a child custody matter must always focus on the best interests of the children involved – and parents are encouraged to thoughtfully and carefully negotiate the terms of custody and visitation in a manner congruent with this goal. 

At our law office, we strive to maintain a smooth and seamless transition through the child custody process. If you are considering filing for custody, or would like to discuss your options for a modification, contact divorce and matrimonial attorney, Howard B. Leff at his Nassau County, New York office today: 516(739)-7500. 

Monday, June 22, 2015

Study Shows Drop in Severe Mental Illness Cases in Children

Which parent is responsible for healthcare decisions of children after divorce?

A recent study by The New England Journal of Medicine reported a substantial drop of severe mental illness in the past generation of children.  This finding was a surprising one due to the general criticism of current health trends including over-diagnosing and treating kids.  Although some child psychiatrists do find some kids are treated when they do not need it, more often than not, kids who need the treatment are the ones who go without treatment.  It appears the percentage of children with a severe mental illness dropped approximately two percent from 12.8% to 10.7%  
Some doctors believe that the explanation for the drop is that parents are monitoring children at an earlier age and getting psychiatric care at an earlier time.  Parents are educating themselves about mental health care treatments for children.  Although this is good news, doctors are still concerned for those children whose parents are waiting too long to seek treatment for children.  

This issue may come to a head in a situation when there is a custody agreement in place under which one parent is primarily responsible for a child’s health care.  In this case, the parent who is responsible for the child’s healthcare may be reluctant or even refuse to seek mental health treatment for a child with a psychological disorder, while the other parent believes it is necessary.  While custody agreements can be difficult to modify, in situations like these the court may feel that it is necessary to change the arrangement or order the parent with primary custody to seek treatment for the child in question.

If you are concerned that your spouse or former spouse is making poor decisions regarding the health of your child or about your role as a parent in making health decisions for your children, contact attorney Howard B. Leff.  Howard B. Leff is an experienced family law attorney based in Nassau County, New York who can help you with your child custody case.  Please contact his office at (516) 739-7500 for a consultation. 

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Woman Sentenced to Probation For Leaving Kids in Car

What are the consequences of being accused of child abuse?

In 2014 a jobless and allegedly homeless mother made national news for leaving two of her kids in a hot car in Arizona with the windows cracked for an hour in 70-degree temperatures while attending a job interview at an insurance agency.  The woman claimed she was unable to afford a sitter or childcare for the children and was arrested immediately after the interview for felony child abuse.   

After the incident made the national news, strangers donated over $100,000 to the family which the mother allegedly spent the money on nonessential items such as cell phones, cable TV, and other entertainment for the family.  The court initially agreed that it would dismiss the felony abuse charges if the mother put some of the donation money into a trust fund under all of her children’s names.  The mother missed deposit deadlines relating to that court agreement because she was concerned that the trust was written to restrict the children’s access to the money to use only if they attended college.  After she missed the deadline, the court reinstated the felony abuse charges, and the mother recently pled guilty to the felony abuse charges.  

The court was concerned about the mother’s apparent lack of responsibility and determined the mother lied during trial regarding her status as homeless and jobless.  During the trial, the court found the mother was living with family and had turned down job offers prior to attending the interview where police arrested her.  Attorneys for the mother argued she is a military veteran, which makes it hard for her to admit the reality of her situation.  The mother also requested a transfer to Chicago where she expects to have better familial support.

The court referred to the mother’s decisions as “criminally poor judgment” and developed a probation sentence to coincide with her children’s status as adults based on the youngest child’s age.  The mother will serve 18 years supervised probation, which includes a court’s monitoring of the trust funds and she must attend a parenting class and a treatment program for domestic violence offenders.

While tough to be a part of, child abuse and other family offense situations are never easy for family members or those associated with family members, and can have a huge impact on family law cases such as custody battles. Also, donations made towards the welfare of the children need to be properly managed according to court requirements and using this type of money improperly can reflect on a litigants character.

Howard B. Leff is an experienced New York family law attorney who can help you through the process of defending yourself or complying with court orders regarding children’s trusts or alleged abuse cases and any other family law issue.  Please contact his office at (516) 729-7500 for a consultation. 

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Tips for Working with a Law Guardian During a Custody Dispute

The court wants to appoint an Attorney For The Child in my custody dispute. What does this mean? 

An Attorney For The Child is not necessarily something to worry about and, in many cases, might be a welcome party to a hotly contested child custody matter. Under New York law, a judge may appoint an Attorney For The Child to a case in any of the following types of matters:
* Cases involving allegations of abuse, neglect and/or drug dependency
* Custody and visitation
* Termination of parental rights
* Child support
* Adoption
* Permanency
* Paternity
* Juvenile delinquency

For the custody and visitation litigant, the court may deem it necessary to inject an Attorney For The Child into the matter if there are allegations of domestic violence or abuse, if the matter is extremely contentious, or upon the request of one or both parties. If you are involved in a case and an Attorney For The Child is appointed, remember that he or she is there to help – and is focused entirely on the best needs of the child. 

Working with an Attorney For The Child during the case

New York law grants an Attorney For The Childs broad powers to investigate the many facets of a child custody dispute. For instance, the attorney may review the child’s medical, counseling or school records without interference. Likewise, the attorney is permitted to interview individuals who play a role in the child’s life, including teachers, caretakers and extended family members.

As a litigant, it is important to allow the Attorney For The Child the opportunity to fulfill his or her role as outlined by the law; obstructing the Attorney For The Child’s access to evidence will not only prove futile, but could also result in a contempt of court violation. As the child’s parent or guardian, you are also under a duty to reveal material information to the Attorney For The Child upon request, and you should never appear combative or uncooperative – as this will undoubtedly get back to the judge. 

Contact a reputable Nassau County family law attorney today

If you are considering a child custody action against your co-parent, contact Howard B. Leff right away by calling (516)739-7500. He has the experience and knowledge needed to zealously advocate for you. His office serves clients in Nassau County and Suffolk County on Long Island and in the five boroughs of New York City.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Overview of New York State Child Custody

Are There Different Types of Child Custody?

There are several different types of child custody under New York State law and there are many factors that are considered in deciding what type is appropriate in any given case.  Courts presiding over these types of issues are bound by the best interests of the child standard in all cases and will make their decisions accordingly.

The types of custody are:

• Physical custody: This type of custody encompasses where and with whom the child lives. That parent is responsible for the practical, day-to-day decisions concerning the child and keeping him or her safe, fed, happy and healthy. This is also known as "residential custody." 

• Legal custody: This is where one or both parents have the legal authority to make decisions affecting the child, such as his or her religious upbringing, educational issues and medical treatment. 

• Joint custody: This type of custody occurs  when both parents share legal custody and more often than not, have equal decision making authority. Each side has an equal role in making decisions for the child and each can “veto” the other's decision. This type of custody requires the parents to work together and if there is a disagreement the issue can be decided in court, or in some cases, a "parent coordinator" is chosen by the parties to assist them in coming to a mutually agreeable decision.

• Pendente lite or temporary custody.  This type of custody is the result of an order usually pertaining to the time between the case filing date and the ultimate resolution of the case, either through a trial or agreement. 

How is custody decided? The judge will decide based on the facts and circumstances of the particular case and the best interests of the child, considering many factors, including, but not limited to:

• Availability of parents: The judge may favor placing the child with the one parent who has more time to spend raising the child, rather than a parent who needs to have the child cared for by others during extended periods of time.

• Health of the parent: Both the physical and mental health of the parents and the child will be considered if they impact how well a parent can care for the child.

• Neglect or abuse: If there is a finding of child neglect or child abuse it will nearly always result in the other parent being awarded custody.

• Psychological evaluation: Otherwise known as  "forensic evaluations" are performed by a mental health professional to judge the mental fitness of the parents. If the issue is decided at a trial, this report is normally given great weight after testimony is elicited from the forensic expert as to his or her findings.

Other issues include home environment, how a parent behaves in court, willingness to have the other parent involved in the child’s life, the child’s preference, which parent was the primary caregiver in the past and keeping siblings together.

If you live in Nassau County and have questions or concerns about an upcoming or current child custody issue, call child custody attorney Howard B. Leff today at (516)739-7500 for a consultation.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Judge's Decision in Child Custody Matter Seeks to Expand Discovery

Can parents have access to child custody forensic reports prepared by court-appointed evaluators?


One of the hardest parts of a divorce proceeding can often be determining custody of the children. When custody is disputed, the court generally appoints an attorney to represent the children's interests, as well as a forensic evaluator to assess family dynamics and recommend custody arrangements. The report prepared by the court-appointed evaluator is almost always available for review by the the attorneys in the case, but historically was not made available to the parties themselves. A recent decision seeks to change this and might usher in a new era of discovery in child custody litigation.

In J.F.D. v. J.D., each parent was seeking sole custody of the couple's two children. A forensic report was prepared and released to counsel for both sides. The husband requested that the court-appointed evaluator's entire file be provided to his own forensic expert. The husband's request was granted, and it also prompted the judge to examine the larger issue of discovery during custody litigation.

Since forensic reports are relied upon so heavily by the court, the judge reasoned that the parties should be given an opportunity to review them as well as the underlying data. Without such an opportunity, the judge found it unreasonable to expect parties to identify deficiencies in the report or evaluator bias; it also made preparing for cross examination of the forensic evaluator more difficult.

The judge ruled that, going forward, parties will be allowed to view the forensic reports and underlying data in their attorney's office with an attorney present. Parties will not receive a copy of the report or other materials but will be permitted to take notes (not pictures).

Nassau County attorney Howard B. Leff has more than 35 years of experience with family law matters, including child custody litigation. He serves clients on Long Island and in all five boroughs of New York City. Call him today at (516)739-7500.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Welcome to Howard B. Leff, P.C. Family Law Blog

Welcome to our family law blog, which will focus on matrimonial matters for those living in Nassau County, including divorce, child custody, support and collaborative divorce. Please visit back soon for new articles and informative updates.

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