New York Court Explains Circumstances that Warrant a Custody Modification

It is not uncommon for divorcing parents to enter into stipulation agreements that set forth their parental rights or for the courts to incorporate such agreements into divorce decrees, rendering them enforceable. Even if parents believe the terms of stipulations are suitable when they enter into them, circumstances can arise that necessitate a modification. Recently, a New York court explained what constitutes a significant enough change to warrant a modification in a case in which it ultimately denied the father’s request.  If you are interested in modifying the terms of your custody arrangement, it is in your best interest to meet with a New York child custody lawyer promptly.

Background of the Case

It is alleged that the parties were married and had one child together before divorcing. They entered into a Stipulation of Settlement in August 2017, which the court incorporated but did not merge with their Judgment of Divorce. The Stipulation provided for joint legal custody of their child, with equal decision-making authority and a detailed parenting schedule. Initially, the father had alternating parenting schedules until the child turned five, after which his schedule was modified. The agreement included provisions for holiday and summer vacation schedules, child support, additional expenses, and life insurance requirements. The father was also required to comply with court orders regarding therapy.

It is reported that the father sought additional parenting time, claiming changes in his employment and relocation to New Jersey due to COVID-19 as significant changes in circumstances. The mother opposed the father’s request, arguing the father’s application was procedurally defective and that no sufficient change in circumstances existed to warrant modification. She also alleged that the father engaged in emotional and physical abuse against the child and provided supporting evidence. Additionally, the mother cross-moved for enforcement of the Stipulation’s provisions regarding life insurance add-on expenses, and sought counsel fees, claiming the father owed support arrears and had not complied with the therapy and life insurance requirements.

Changes in Circumstances Sufficient to Warrant a Modification of Custody

The court reviewed the procedural aspects and determined the father’s application was not defective, as it sought a modification rather than challenging the validity of the Stipulation. The court then evaluated whether there was a sufficient change in circumstances to justify a modification of custody. Ultimately, the court found the father’s relocation to New Jersey and new job to be insufficient changes, emphasizing that stability for the child and avoiding unnecessary litigation were paramount. Consequently, the father’s request for additional parenting time was denied.

Regarding the mother’s cross-motion, the court found the father had provided proof of the required life insurance, and therefore, her request for enforcement was denied. On the issue of add-on expenses, the court noted both parties failed to follow the agreed protocol for calculating the father’s pro-rata share, leading to the denial of the mother’s claim for reimbursement. The court also denied the mother’s request for medical expense reimbursement, as the father had paid his share. Additionally, the father had complied with therapy requirements, thus denying the mother’s enforcement request on this issue.

Confer with a Trusted New York Child Custody Attorney

Parents can enter into stipulations determining their custody rights, but if the court adopts such stipulations, they are enforceable and generally will only be modified if the moving party can demonstrate a substantial change in circumstances. If you have questions about what steps you can take to protect your parental rights, it is smart to confer with a lawyer. Ksenia Rudyuk is a trusted New York child custody attorney with the knowledge and resources needed to help you seek the best outcome possible. You can reach Ms. Rudyuk by calling 212-706-2001 or by using our online form to arrange a meeting.

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