Parental Fitness

NY lawsuit highlights issue of parental fitness in custody arrangements

On behalf of Ron McCormack at McCormack & Phillips

Many separated couples in Rockland County, New York, do not always see eye-to-eye when it comes to how their children should be raised. Many parents who share custody may come into conflict or even question parental fitness when sharing the responsibility of raising the child.

This issue was recently brought to light when a New York father filed a lawsuit after being pronounced incapable of caring for his son. The story serves as an opportunity to remind parents of their options for contesting custody arrangements or defending their rights as parents.

Specifics of the case

According to the Huffington Post, the father in the case currently has weekend visits and dinner one night a week with his four-year old son. On a dinner night in October, the father refused to take his son to McDonald's, telling him that he could eat anywhere else. The son threw a tantrum, and the father, reluctant to reward bad behavior, told the boy that he could eat somewhere else or not eat at all. The son chose the latter, and the father took him back to the mother's house.

This episode led a psychologist assigned to evaluate the couple – who are still in the process of divorcing – to suggest that the father was not a fit parent and that his visits should be reduced or eliminated altogether. In response, the father filed a defamation lawsuit.

Although unusual, this situation reflects the fact that parental conduct is extremely important both in divorce proceedings and custody arrangements. New York parents also need to understand what their options are in the event that they are accused of being unfit or see the other parent as the unfit party. Moreover, parents must always keep in mind their conduct and behavior because the focus and primary concern of a court is to serve the best interests of the child or children.

NY custody and modifications

When custody and parenting plans are first determined, there are a number of criteria that the court takes into account, according to the New York State Unified Court System website. Factors that are evaluated include:

  • Each individual's parenting skills, mental health and physical health.
  • Each parent's schedule and plans for looking after the child.
  • The ability of each individual to work with the other parent and encourage the child's relationship with him or her.
  • The occurrence of any domestic violence incidents.
  • The child's own preferences.

According to the same source, custody or visitation orders can be modified if a change has occurred and the court believes that a new arrangement would better protect the interests of the child. A parent being deemed unfit is one development that would provide grounds for modification of orders. If a modification is requested, both parents have the opportunity to present their sides, and the case must be heard in the same court in which custody was first set.

The New York family's case, although a little atypical, reflects the fact that child custody issues are usually complex and sometimes highly contested. It is always advisable for parents facing these challenges to seek qualified legal help.

If you are divorcing or struggling with custody arrangements after a separation, you should speak with an attorney to guarantee that your rights as a parent are protected.