In this case DV LEAP and pro bono law firm partner Freshfields represented Ms. W, a mother who was granted custody of her two children, to defend against the father’s appeal of the custody order. The father argued on appeal that the children should be with him because the mother took them out of state and wouldn’t allow him contact, despite admitting that he had abused Ms. W, her son from another relationship, and one of their children.
The New York's Appellate Court for the Third Department found that although Ms. W did take the children out of state in violation of a court order and interfered with father’s access, it was in the children’s best interests to live with her primarily. The appeals court specifically considered the father’s history of domestic violence against mother and harsh physical discipline against one of the boys, despite an existing court order prohibiting the father from using corporal punishment, as well as the father’s concerning living circumstances.
This ruling matters for survivors and children of abusive parents because the court fulfilled its duty to protect the children’s best interests instead of punishing a parent for violating court orders. The court correctly balanced the impact on the children, both of whom have significant medical and educational needs, of the parents’ actions and found that Ms. W, despite violating the court’s order, better met the children’s needs.
A special thank you to the Freshfields team of Aryeh Kaufman and Elena Hadjimichael for being DV LEAP Superheroes!
Read the brief here.
Read the decision here.