The Fourth Department, in a full-fledged opinion by Justice Centra, determined Family Court should not have granted primary custody of the child to the grandparents. Although the grandparents had played a primary role in the child’s care for 10 years, with the mother’s permission and participation, the “extraordinary circumstances” described by the Court of Appeals as necessary to justify awarding custody to nonparents were not present:
As the Court of Appeals held in the seminal case of Matter of Bennett v Jeffreys (40 NY2d 543, 544), “[t]he State may not deprive a parent of the custody of a child absent surrender, abandonment, persisting neglect, unfitness or other like extraordinary circumstances.” The Court thereafter held that, “[s]o long as the parental rights have not been forfeited by gross misconduct . . . or other behavior evincing utter indifference and irresponsibility . .. , the natural parent may not be supplanted” (Matter of Male Infant L., 61 NY2d 420, 427). “The nonparent has the burden of proving that extraordinary circumstances exist, and until such circumstances are shown, the court does not reach the issue of the best interests of the child” … .
…[T]he arrangement between petitioners [the grandparents] and the mother since shortly after the child’s birth and for 10 years thereafter was akin to a joint custody arrangement with petitioners having primary physical custody of the child and the mother visitation. Petitioners established that they took on the bulk of the responsibility for the child’s financial support and education. There was no showing by petitioners, however, that the mother was unfit or that she surrendered or abandoned her child … . The question then is whether they established “other equivalent but rare extraordinary circumstance[s] which would drastically affect the welfare of the child” … .
As we have held, “[w]hat proof is sufficient to establish such equivalent but rare extraordinary circumstances cannot be precisely measured” … . “[T]he fact that [a] parent agreed that a nonparent should have physical custody of the child or placed the child in the custody of a nonparent is not sufficient, by itself, to deprive the parent of custody” … . Here, while the mother allowed petitioners to have primary physical custody of the child for a prolonged period, there were no other factors to show the existence of extraordinary circumstances … . The record establishes that the child is psychologically attached to both petitioners and the mother, and there was no evidence that removing the child from petitioners’ primary custody would result in “psychological trauma . . . grave enough to threaten destruction of the child” … . The evidence at the hearing showed that the child exhibited some signs of stress after May 2012, but the record as a whole, including the Lincoln hearing, supports the conclusion that the child was stressed because of the family conflict, and would not suffer if the mother had custody of the child. Matter of Suarez v Williams, 2015 NY Slip Op 02293, 4th Dept 3-20-15