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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—thereby 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.”

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