In New York, the adjudication of custody disputes often entails a years-long process involving multiple court appearances, an appointment of attorneys to represent the subject children, and temporary orders. In many cases, the behavior the parties while the custody case is pending provides valuable information to the court about which parent is better suited to serve as the custodial parent. One factor that courts consider is the willingness of a parent to encourage and foster a close relationship between the subject child and the other (noncustodial) parent.
If there have been temporary custody orders (as often occurs) the court will often inquire about whether the parent who had temporary custody was willing, during the period of temporary custody, to foster a close relationship between the child and the other parent.
The willingness of a parent to encourage a relationship between the child and the other parent plays a particularly important role in custody disputes where both parents are capable of providing for the child’s emotional and intellectual development. In such situations, a parent who has refused to foster a close relationship between the child and the other parent may lose custody. The most recent example of this occurred in the case of Lawlor v. Eder (2013 NY Slip Op 03096), which was the subject of an Appellate Division decision by the Second Department earlier this month. The Appellate Court upheld the Nassau County Family Court judge’s decision to grant custody to the mother based on the determination that “during the period when the child was in the temporary custody of the father, the father had refused to encourage and foster meaningful contact between the child and the mother, and that such conduct was adverse to the child’s best interests.”
The decision of the court in the Lawlor v. Eder is instructive for New York custody lawyers: it is essential that a client in a custody dispute be informed, at the outset of a case, to place the child’s interests above any lingering resentment or animosity that the parent may feel toward the other parent. Otherwise, the parent’s custodial rights may be adversely impacted.