Articles Posted in New York Court of Appeals

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Family Court does not retain subject matter jurisdiction to conduct a permanency hearing pursuant to Family Court Act (FCA) article 10-A once the underlying neglect petition brought under article 10 of the FCA has been dismissed for failure to prove neglect. Family Court directed Daughter’s temporary removal from Mother’s custody. The Department of Social Services subsequently filed a FCA article 10 neglect petition. Family Court eventually ruled that the Department failed to prove neglect and dismissed the petition. Family Court, however, did not release Daughter into Mother’s custody and instead held a second permanency hearing. Mother argued that the dismissal of the neglect proceeding against her ended Family Court’s subject matter jurisdiction and should have necessitated her daughter’s immediate return. The Appellate Division affirmed the second permanency hearing order. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the dismissal of a neglect petition operates to discharge a child from placement, terminate all orders regarding supervision, protection or services docketed thereunder, and extinguish Family Court’s jurisdiction over the matter. View "Matter of Jamie J." on Justia Law

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Mother retained counsel to represent her in her efforts to obtain child support from Father. The support magistrate entered a support order against Father in the amount of $236 per week. A different magistrate subsequently modified the support order, reducing Father’s child support obligation to $25 per month. Family Court mailed the orders and accompanying findings of fact directly to Mother but did not mail the documents to Mother’s lawyer. Forty-one days after the orders were mailed by Family Court, Mother, through counsel, filed objections. Family Court denied Mother’s objections as untimely and confirmed and continued the Support Magistrate’s orders. The Appellate Division affirmed. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that if a party is represented by counsel, the time requirements set out in Family Court Act 439(e) for objections to a support magistrate’s final order, when the order is served by mail, do not begin to run until the order is mailed to counsel. View "Odunbaku v. Odunbaku" on Justia Law

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At issue before the Court of Appeals in these two consolidated cases was the continued validity of the rule promulgated in Alison D. v. Virginia M., which states that, in an unmarried couple, a partner without a biological or adoptive relation to a child is not that child’s parent for purposes of standing to seek visitation or custody under N.Y. Dom. Rel. Law 70(a), despite their “established relationship with the child.” The Court of Appeals overruled Alison D., holding that, where a non-biologiccal, non-adoptive partner shows by clear and convincing evidence that he or she has agreed with the biological parent or the child to conceive a child and to raise the child as co-parents, the partner has standing to seek visitation and custody under section 70. View "Brooke S.B. v Elizabeth A.C.C." on Justia Law

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Mother commenced divorce proceedings, seeking full custody of the couple’s two minor children. Father subsequently sought temporary sole legal custody of the children, alleging that he feared for their safety based alleged incidents involving harassment, extramarital affairs, and abuse of alcohol and prescription medication by Mother. The court granted that motion and granted Mother supervised visitation. A subsequent report by a court-appointed forensic evaluator concluded that Father was the more "psychologically stable" parent. During a subsequent appearance, the court set a briefing schedule and stated that it might “be in a position to determine custody sua sponte." The parties submitted briefs regarding Father's requested relocation and the court's ability to grant custody to Father without a hearing. One month later, the court awarded Father sole legal and physical custody, noting that, although the parties planned to continue to make attempts at reinstating supervised visitation, visitation and family therapy had been "suspended" for several months. The court did not conduct an evidentiary hearing, noting that the allegations were not controverted and the opinions of the family therapist, the court-appointed forensic evaluator, and the agency supervising visitation. The Appellate Division affirmed. The New York Court of Appeals reversed. The undefined and imprecise "adequate relevant information" standard tolerates an unacceptably-high risk of yielding custody determinations that do not conform to the best interest of a child and does not adequately protect a parent whose fundamental right is at issue. View "S.L. v J.R." on Justia Law

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The Appellate Division rejected the contention that consecutive commitments were not authorized by Family Court Act 454 (3) and concluded that "[g]iven the father's failure to contest the amounts due and his willful refusal to voluntarily pay them despite repeated opportunities afforded to him over more than three years, we find no abuse of discretion in the determination to run the sentences consecutively[.]" At issue is whether Family Court, in revoking two prior suspended orders of commitment, was authorized to order consecutive six-month sentences for each to run consecutively with a third six-month sentence imposed for a current violation. The court concluded that it was within the discretion of the Family Court judge to impose consecutive sentences for each willful violation. Willful violators of Family Court orders should not in effect be given immunity for past violations — conduct which would have justified incarceration at the time — solely because the trial court exercised restraint in fashioning a remedy that provided yet another opportunity to meet support obligations. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Matter of Columbia Cnty. Support Collection Unit v. Risley" on Justia Law

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Child lived with his paternal Grandparents beginning when he was less than ten days old and continuing until he was almost ten years old. In 2006, Child’s Mother was granted primary physical custody, but Child continued to reside with Grandparents. In 2012, after Father sought custody from Mother, Mother refused to return Child to Grandparents following a visit. Grandparents commenced this proceeding seeking primary physical custody of Child. Family Court granted joint custody to Grandparents and Father, with primary physical custody to Grandparents and visitation to each parent. The Appellate Division reversed and dismissed Grandparents’ petition, concluding that Grandparents lacked standing to seek custody. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that Grandparents established their standing to seek custody of Child by demonstrating extraordinary circumstances, namely an extended disruption of Mother’s custody. Remitted. View "Suarez v. Williams" on Justia Law

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During the course of the parties’ matrimonial proceeding, Supreme Court issued an order (the “January 2010 order”) requiring Defendant to deposit in escrow the proceeds of the sale of properties which were the subject of a prior equitably distribution determination in favor of Plaintiff, Defendant’s former spouse. Plaintiff filed a motion to hold Defendant in civil and criminal contempt for Defendant’s failure to comply with the order. After a hearing, Supreme Court found Defendant in contempt of court for failing to comply with the January 2010 order. The Appellate Division affirmed. The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that the evidence adduced at the hearing established a sufficient basis for the civil contempt judgment, and therefore, the Appellate Division properly affirmed Supreme Court. View "El-Dehdan v El-Dehdan" on Justia Law

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Wife and Husband were married in 1997. A week before the wedding, they each separately signed a prenuptial agreement. Neither party was present when the other executed the document, and the signatures were witnessed by different notaries public. In the acknowledgment relating to Husband's signature, a key phrase was omitted. As a result, the certificate failed to indicate that the notary public confirmed the identity of the person executing the document. In 2010, Husband filed for divorce. Wife commenced a separate action seeking a divorce and a declaration that the prenuptial agreement was unenforceable. Supreme Court denied Wife's motion for summary judgment. The Appellate Division affirmed, holding (1) the certificate of acknowledgment was defective, but (2) the deficiency could be cured after the fact, and the notary public affidavit raised a triable question of fact as to whether the prenuptial agreement had been properly acknowledged when it was signed. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the prenuptial agreement was invalid where, even assuming a defect in a certificate of acknowledgment could be cured, the notary public's affidavit was insufficient to raise a triable question of fact as to the propriety of the original acknowledgment procedure. View "Galetta v. Galetta" on Justia Law

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Father was an inmate in New York's correctional system. Father, who had acknowledged paternity of a child prior to his imprisonment, sought visitation with the child, who was then three years old, after Mother refused to bring the child to the prison. The family court granted Father's petition for visitation and awarded Father periodic four-hour visits at the prison with the child. The appellate division affirmed. Mother appealed, arguing that the lower courts employed an incorrect legal standard in reviewing the petition. The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that the lower courts used the appropriate legal standard, applying the presumption in favor of visitation and considering whether Mother rebutted the presumption through showing that visitation would be harmful to the child. View "Granger v. Misercola" on Justia Law

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After a hearing, the family court determined that Father and Mother abused their two-year-old child and that they neglected and derivatively abused three of their other children. The family court dismissed the petition of the Commissioner of the City Administration for Children's Services insofar as it alleged severe abuse against their infant son, concluding that severe abuse under N.Y. Soc. Serv. Law 384-b(8)(a)(i), which requires a finding that Father acted "under circumstances evincing a depraved indifference to human life, could not be established in view of the Supreme Court's decision in People v. Suarez unless an eyewitness testified to the manner in which the harm was inflicted. The appellate division reversed. The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding (1) the phrase "circumstances evincing a depraved indifference to human life" does not mean the same thing for purposes of N.Y. Soc. Serv. Law 384-b(8)(a)(i) as it does under the Penal Law; and (2) a showing of diligent efforts to encourage and strengthen the parental relationship is not prerequisite to a finding of severe abuse under Family Court Act 1051(e) where the fact-finder determines that such efforts would be detrimental to the best interests of the child. View "In re Dashawn W." on Justia Law