Greetings! The Gabriella Boyd Memorial Foundation continues to wish everyone a healthy and safe rest of the year and we thank all of the Essential Workers during this pivotal time in everyone’s lives.
Although many businesses were closed your Gabriella Boyd Memorial Foundation was operating throughout the last 5 months. We assisted 5 different parents (3 from NY, 2 out of state) with custody, visitation and support issues stemming from Family Court and its nonchalant and lackluster approach to their own standard of “the best interest of the child.”
Since our last community event “Give with Gabby,” which was a toy drive with a twist that was held back in December of 2019, we were anticipating our second annual Gala to be held in the month of October of 2020, unfortunately due to the ongoing concerns the Board of Directors has decided to postpone the GBMF’s second annual Gala until further notice.
A few months ago, back in February 2020, NY State Senate Bill A9819 was introduced during the Legislative session. A9819 began the long arduous transition from being introduced as a Bill with 1 sponsor, 7 co-sponsors and 1 multi sponsor to hopefully making its way up to the Governor’s office and becoming signed into law. A9819 in summary addresses co-parenting more specifically 50/50 equal shared custody. It “seeks to amend the Domestic Relations Laws, in relation to procedures for certain temporary custody orders.”
The key part to A9819 is in paragraphs 6 and 9 on page 2 that helps encompass the concern of when 1 parent is demonstrably unfit and jeopardizes the Family Court Standard of “Best interest of the child,” and more importantly the welfare of the child. Ultimately “Allegations are to be “Clear and Convincing” which raises the burden of a good faith allegation thus removing the “silver bullet” and keeping the burden of proof on the individuals making the allegation as opposed to the current that shifts the burden onto the one being accused,” says Frank Hand of NY Family Law Reform 2020. In Criminal and Civil Court, the burden of proof is on the Complainant, therefore family court should follow suit. Currently Bill A9819 is stalled in the Assembly Committee.
This is a story of one of our members in Westchester County, NY
My legal nightmare began in 2015. I filed a petition for child support because I wasn't receiving any financial assistance from my son's father. I also filed a petition for sole legal custody of my son because his father seemed very unstable at the time and he has bipolar disorder and PTSD.
It took about 6-9 months to go through all the court proceedings until I finally got sole legal custody of my son. Because he has bipolar disorder and PTSD, the judge and my son's lawyer would ask for information about his medications and psychologist visits. On one of the documents he provided the court with, he admitted to smoking marijuana to cope with stress and depression. The judge ordered a drug test on the spot while in court. He ended up testing positive for Cannabis, and alcohol. At that moment he was ordered supervised visitations. The State only pays for 3 visits and after that he would have had to pay for the visits, because he lost his job and said he couldn't afford to pay for the visits, his sister agreed to supervised visitations. I was against it because I cannot guarantee that she would be present at every visit during the entire visit. She was not equipped to handle the responsibility of having to stop a visit if my son's father wasn't fit for it. Most importantly she would always took his side. During the time his sister served as the legal supervisor, I underwent a lot of turmoil because my son would not be returned on time. There were days my son was returned 2 hours late without notification from either him or his sister. There were days I had to go to the police station and place a complaint because I was harassed, taunted and followed by him. All this was going on in front of my son and the supervisor. When the visits were done by a Court Ordered social worker, I didn't have any issues, but with his sister being the court appointed supervisor, she didn't take care of her responsibilities.
Every time I would reach out to my lawyer to advise him of what was going on, he could never advise me on what is best to do, not only for my son but for me as well. I ended up changing lawyers 4 times until I found a half decent one that could help me in this situation! The court only cares about the child's well being. After many hours and a lot of money spent on lawyer fees, I was able to have a court order to make exchanges at the police station. I wasn't happy having to take my son in there but for my safety I had to do it. During another follow up court date, he tested positive for Cannabis and alcohol at 10 AM. The supervised visits went on for 4 years as he kept testing positive for Cannabis and alcohol and he wasn't providing the information requested by the judge from the psychologist! During this entire process I kept asking myself, how many chances is the court going to give him? I'm getting harassed, taunted and confronted during the exchanges, even though it was supervised. Prior to making the exchanges at the police station, I lived with my parents and exchanges were done there. However, he filed a harassment petition against my mother because he got into an argument with her on one of the exchanges, and she ended up having to go to trial because he filed for an order of protection against her. My parent’s home became an unacceptable place of exchange. During that time, anytime I would cancel a visit because my son had a fever and once the flu, he would call the police on me and fill out a violation of visits against me. He called the police on me about 3 times in 2 years.
Fast forward 6 months after that I moved to Westchester where the craziness continued, and he would harass and taunt me even while doing exchanges at the police station. During one of the exchanges my son came crying to me and he wouldn't tell me why he was crying, he just ran to me and I carried him. I asked both his father and his sister (the court appointed supervisor) why was he crying and neither said anything. When I got to the car with my son, I calmed him down and asked him to tell me why he was crying. He told me his father smacked him in the mouth because he said shut up and that he never wanted to see him again. I was so angry because these are supervised visits and my son just got smacked and she didn't do anything to stop it. I was infuriated. I called my lawyer right away, but like always it was a waste of time because they focus on legal issues and not the word of a 4-year-old. I told my son the next time your father hits you to tell him not to hit you. The exchanges at the police station went on for almost a year. After months of going to the police station my son didn't want to go there anymore and I was forced to make a decision for my son. I was either going to put myself in jeopardy and not make the exchange in the police station or make my son cry every time and possibly traumatize him. I made the decision of not making the exchanges at the police station and made them at the train station. Not only did I put myself in jeopardy but also my son. I took the chance of breaking the court order, where the judge can say I'm not following her decision which was made to protect me. During this time there had been many changes with him and my son stopped going to his apartment which he just lost. His sister had to leave the country for 3 months due to work and she was no longer supervising, instead the grandmother agreed to do the supervision. My son started to express feelings of not wanting to go on his visits and I had to honor his feelings. I wasn't going to force my son. My son would cry, kick, scream and hold on to me tight and not let go. I cancelled one visit on the spot because I wasn't going to force him and that's not what an exchange should be like between parents and if my son was exhibiting signs of not wanting to go on his visits I had to intervene in his best interest!
We went to court again to continue the petition for unsupervised visits. His paperwork and reasons as to why he entered this program weren't clear and he didn't want to sign a HIPPA form so that the court social worker can speak to his psychologist. He was denied unsupervised visits. At that time, I took the opportunity of explaining what had been going on with my son and not wanting to go on visits. I asked if I could supervise one day out of the weekend. He was opposed to it however the judge granted me to supervise on Sundays on his visits. These supervised visits went on for the remainder of this summer. The visits went well because I concentrated on my son and his well being. I wanted to make sure my son was okay during the visits. We finalized court summer of 2019 and he was granted unsupervised visits after the social worker was able to get in touch with his psychologist. He was still in the rehab facility when he was granted unsupervised visits. Now the visits are going okay however, I foresee myself going back to court as he is now living with his parents and jobless. Their relationship is not the greatest and they are very dysfunctional, and he may end up going to a shelter. While this case is ongoing, I also had child support court dates. I have yet to receive any child support for a year. This is an ongoing thing where he is employed for 6 months and unemployment for over a year. He owes thousands in arrears, his license is suspended, his passport was blocked, his tax refunds will be seized, and his credit is shot.
My case was at the Manhattan Family Court under Referee Marva Burnett, she retired in 2019, since my case was finalized in July 2019, my son's father and I had a respectful relationship, however after a few months the relationship deteriorated once again and at this point irreplaceable as I refuse to deal with him and his abusive ways. Between October 2019 and March 2020, there were a few instances where we argued due to him not following the court ordered visitations. March 2020 was the last day of visitations due to my son's father returning 2 hours late without notification and when he finally showed up at the exchange location he was under the influence as he had lost all of my son's belongings which included his coat and all the food containers I provided for each of his visits. I have made the decision to file a petition in court to stop visitations and child support court order violation. He has not paid any child support in 2 years and owes close to $20k in arrears! He also moved in with roommates, whom I nor my son know! He never alerted me to his move until my son told me. I have sole legal and physical custody of my son, I have the right to stop visitations if I fear the best interest of my son is at risk or in danger. It took me 5 lawyers and $20K in the 5 years of court proceedings to explain to me what having "SOLE CUSTODY" really means and understand my position in a legal aspect and what I have the right to do.
Due to Covid, courts are closed and I'm waiting to see what the next step is. Until then all visitations are suspended until I can go to court and have a judge take care of this situation.
Gabriella Boyd Memorial Fund 2018