After noting that Family Court failed to address whether petitioner, a maternal aunt, had established extraordinary circumstances overcoming the mother’s superior right to custody, the Third Department exercised its power to make the finding that petitioner had met her burden:
Notwithstanding Family Court’s failure to make the threshold determination regarding extraordinary circumstances, we may independently review the record to make such a determination where, as here, the record has been adequately developed … . Based upon that review, we conclude that petitioner met her burden of establishing extraordinary circumstances. Petitioner testified that the older child had lived with her for approximately four years. The younger child had lived with petitioner for about one year, returned to the mother’s home and then resumed living with petitioner. According to petitioner, and as partially corroborated by the mother, the mother’s health issues significantly limited her ability to care for the children. The evidence at trial established that the mother, who has substantial pulmonary issues and requires the aid of oxygen, excessively and inappropriately depended upon the children to assist her with personal and health needs, as well as housekeeping duties. The mother even required the younger child to sleep near her because she was afraid she would stop breathing while sleeping. Additionally, the mother’s health issues hindered her ability to supervise the younger child, who had behavior issues and was getting into trouble at school while she was living with the mother. During various hospitalizations, the mother left the younger child with neighbors and/or relatives, some of whom were of questionable reliability.
It is abundantly clear that the mother was unable to both provide the younger child with a structured environment and to properly care for her; instead, the mother relied upon the child to take care of her. Further, when the younger child was residing with petitioner, the mother consistently pressured her to return to her home claiming, among other thing, that she needed her home because she was dying which was upsetting to the child. Multiple witnesses also testified to the unsanitary living conditions in the mother’s trailer, including several occasions when it was flea infested. When the younger child came to live with petitioner, her clothing was ill-fitting and she had significant untreated dental issues. Finally, inasmuch as the older child had been living with petitioner for many years, placing the younger child in petitioner’s care allowed the siblings to reside together. Matter of Roth v Messina, 2014 NY Slip Op 02637, 3rd Dept 4-17-14