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In re Tasha AA.

Supreme Court of New York, Third Department

December 26, 2019

In the Matter of Tasha AA., Respondent,
Tammy DD. et al., Appellants.

          Calendar Date: November 14, 2019

          Adam H. Van Buskirk, Auburn, for Tammy DD., appellant.

          Michelle I. Rosien, Philmont, for Davaughn CC., appellant.

          Larisa Obolensky, Delhi, for respondent.

          Susan McNeil, Brooktondale, attorney for the child.

          Before: Garry, P.J., Clark, Mulvey, Pritzker and Reynolds Fitzgerald, JJ.

          Reynolds Fitzgerald, J.

         Appeal from an order of the Family Court of Broome County (Connerton, J.), entered July 27, 2018, which, among other things, granted petitioner's application, in a proceeding pursuant to Family Ct Act article 6, for custody of the subject child.

         Respondent Tammy DD. (hereinafter the mother) and respondent Davaughn CC. (hereinafter the father) are the parents of a child (born in 2016). Petitioner (hereinafter the grandmother) is the child's paternal grandmother. In January 2017, the parents brought the child from Georgia to New York to reside with the grandmother and then they returned to Georgia. In June 2017, the mother advised the grandmother that she was coming to retrieve the child, prompting the grandmother to file a petition seeking sole legal custody. When the mother arrived at the grandmother's residence, there was an altercation, and the mother was arrested. As a result, Child Protective Services substantiated a finding of inadequate guardianship against the mother, and the child remained with the grandmother. Thereafter, the father relocated to New York, and both he and the mother filed their own custody petitions. A fact-finding hearing was held on all petitions over several days after which Family Court determined that the grandmother met her burden of establishing extraordinary circumstances and then awarded custody of the child to the grandmother, with reasonable and liberal parenting time for each parent, as arranged by the grandmother. The mother and the father appeal.

         "A parent has a claim of custody of his or her child that is superior to that of all others, absent surrender, abandonment, persistent neglect, unfitness, disruption of custody over a prolonged period of time or the existence of other extraordinary circumstances" (Matter of Karen Q. v Christina R., 170 A.D.3d 1446, 1447 [2019] [internal quotation marks, brackets and citations omitted]; see Matter of Sweeney v Sweeney, 127 A.D.3d 1259, 1260 [2015]). "[T]he parent in question may be supplanted where he or she engages in gross misconduct or other behavior evincing an utter indifference and irresponsibility relative to the parental role" (Matter of Renee TT. v Britney UU., 133 A.D.3d 1101, 1102 [2015] [internal quotation marks and citations omitted]; see Matter of Darrow v Darrow, 106 A.D.3d 1388, 1391-1392 [2013]). "A nonparent bears the heavy burden of establishing that there are extraordinary circumstances and, thus, that he or she has standing to seek custody of another person's child" (Matter of Donna SS. v Amy TT., 149 A.D.3d 1211, 1212 [2017] [citations omitted]; see Matter of DellaPiana v DellaPiana, 161 A.D.3d 1228, 1230 [2018]). Examples of behaviors that may, in the aggregate, rise to the level of extraordinary circumstances include instability in the parent's housing or employment situation (see Matter of Renee TT. v Britney UU., 133 A.D.3d at 1103), failure to plan for the child's future (see Matter of Rodriguez v Delacruz-Swan, 100 A.D.3d 1286, 1288 [2012]) and domestic violence (see Matter of Mary D. v Ashley E., 158 A.D.3d 1022, 1022-1023 [2018]; Matter of Turner v Maiden, 70 A.D.3d 1214, 1217 [2010]).

         Contrary to the mother's contention, [1] the evidence demonstrates that the grandmother satisfied her threshold burden of establishing the existence of extraordinary circumstances. The parents voluntarily relinquished care and control of the child. Both parents testified that they could not economically care for the child in Georgia. The father testified that he was "going through hardships down there" and that it was "hard for [them]... to pay the rent [and] continue providing for food for... [the] whole family... [and they were] living paycheck to paycheck... and it was... excruciating." Additionally, there were incidents of domestic violence. The mother testified that she and the father "had been going through it, ... the police had been called [and she didn't] want [her] daughter in a toxic situation." As a result of these circumstances, the child has resided with the grandmother for most of her life. [2]

         During the period that the child has resided with the grandmother, the mother lived in a number of different residences. In at least two of these, she was subjected to significant domestic violence. The mother's two other children reside with their father in Georgia, three hours from the mother's residence. In addition, although she was working at the time of the hearing, her work history has been sporadic. "The level of instability existing in the mother's life, as evidenced by her sporadic employment and precarious housing situation, is indicative of the mother's overall pattern of placing her own interests and personal relationships ahead of [her child]... and demonstrates a marked lack of parental responsibility" (Matter of Darrow v Darrow, 106 A.D.3d at 1392). Additionally, the mother has had only limited contact with the child. She has made no attempt to gain any information as to the child's health care or day care. She failed to offer a plan if she were granted custody, and she has no day care plans in place, instead offering only a generalized plan solely as to the child's housing. Since she filed her petition for custody, the mother has only physically visited the child on approximately three occasions, with those visits occurring when she appeared in court.

         The father is currently employed and is in training to become a certified nursing assistant. At one point in time, the father took the child to day care. However, this has not continued. The father has not taken the child to doctor appointments and has failed to inquire into health insurance for the child or the cost of day care. In addition, he has made no arrangements or plans for the child's future. Like the mother, the father has lived in numerous residences. Since his arrival in New York, he has resided with an uncle, friends, public housing [3] and his sister. In Georgia, he had three different residences and was incarcerated for 30 days. Neither parent financially supports the child. In the aggregate, both parents' instability in their housing and employment, failure to plan for the child's future, irresponsibility and indifference to asserting a parental role, coupled with the child residing with the grandmother for a prolonged time period, constitute extraordinary circumstances.

         "With the requisite extraordinary circumstances having been established, custody is determined based upon the best interests of the child" (Matter of DellaPiana v DellaPiana, 161 A.D.3d at 1231 [citations omitted]). "Factors to be considered in a best interests analysis include maintaining stability in the child's life, the quality of the respective home environments, the length of time the present custody arrangement has been in place and each party's past performance, relative fitness and ability to provide for and guide the child's intellectual and emotional development" (Matter of Nevaeh MM. [Sheri MM.-Charles MM.],158 ...

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