The Third Department expressed concern with the Family Court judge’s refusal to accept the parties’ agreement on nearly all issues, holding a hearing on all issues, and then making a finding which did not reflect the agreement. The matter was remitted for a hearing in front of a different judge:
On January 22, 2015, the date on which the matter was scheduled for a hearing, the parties reported to Family Court that they had resolved all outstanding issues, except for their dispute over a 2½ hour block of time on the Fridays that the father had physical custody of the child. The court responded that, “if we have a trial, everything is opened up and I don’t know what the other issues are.” The mother’s counsel replied, “[W]e’ve agreed to all the other issues.” The father’s counsel then advised that, despite some initial hesitancy as to where the child went to school, “the year ha[d] gone well [and] the child [was] doing well.” The colloquy continued, with Family Court inexplicably cautioning that, if the parties did not fully settle the case, it would consider directing that the child be enrolled in private school — an option neither party proposed or desired, and which the court had characterized as “[o]utrageously expensive.” Counsel for the mother eventually reiterated that they were “prepared to go forward on the trial on th[e] two-hour [pick-up] issue . . ., with everything else being resolved.” The father’s counsel responded, “likewise.” Family Court, however, persisted, stating, “If I’m going to sit here and we’re gonna (sic) hear testimony, I want to hear it all.” After a brief recess, counsel informed the court that the pick-up issue remained in dispute. The court stated, “We’re trying it on the whole issue of where is this child going to school and whether or not there were violations of the order of custody.” A hearing on all matters then ensued at the insistence of Family Court.
Family Court abused its discretion by not accepting the parties’ resolution to continue the child’s enrollment in the mother’s school district when there was no evidence that such agreement was not in the child’s best interests. At the time, the attorney for the child supported the parties’ proposed agreement. Moreover, the court’s concern that the mother violated the prior joint custody order by enrolling the child in the kindergarten program, without first informing the father, was unwarranted. No such violation was asserted by the father, and the mother endeavored to explain several times, without contradiction, that since the child had attended the pre-kindergarten program in her school district, the district continued the child’s enrollment in the kindergarten program. For these reasons, a new judge must be assigned upon remittal. Matter of Woodrow v Arnold, 2017 NY Slip Op 03081, 3rd Dept 4-20-17
FAMILY LAW (JUDGE’S REFUSAL TO ACCEPT PARTIES’ AGREEMENT ON ALL BUT ONE ISSUE WAS AN ABUSE OF DISCRETION)/JUDGES (FAMILY LAW, JUDGE’S REFUSAL TO ACCEPT PARTIES’ AGREEMENT ON ALL BUT ONE ISSUE WAS AN ABUSE OF DISCRETION)