The Second Department, reversing Supreme Court, determined the award of custody to father, which father had not requested, when mother asked to appear at a hearing by telephone was improper. The hearing was to determine father’s allegation mother had violated the visitation provisions of the consent order awarding custody to her. The child had appealed. The best interests of the child are paramount and don’t appear to have been considered by the court:
The paramount concern in any custody or visitation determination is the best interests of the child … . “In order to modify a consent order granting sole custody to a parent, there must be a showing of a change [in] circumstances such that modification is required to protect the best interests of the child'” … . “Custody determinations should generally be made only after a full and plenary hearing and inquiry. This general rule furthers the substantial interest, shared by the State, the [child], and the parents, in ensuring that custody proceedings generate a just and enduring result that, above all else, serves the best interests of the child” … . Reversal or modification of an existing custody order “should not be a weapon wielded as a means of punishing a recalcitrant” or contemptuous parent … . Moreover, where no party has moved for a change in custody, a court may not modify an existing custody order in a non-emergency situation absent notice to the parties, and without affording the custodial parent an opportunity to present evidence and to call and cross-examine witnesses … .
Here, the Supreme Court improperly modified the consent order by changing custody from the mother to the father without the father having sought that relief in the petition, and without any apparent consideration of the child’s best interests … . The court’s award of custody to the father under the circumstances of this case also was improper in light of the father’s statements during the proceedings that he did not have a steady place to live with the child and that he did not wish to make an application for custody. Accordingly, we reverse the order and remit the matter to the Supreme Court … , for further proceedings on the father’s violation petition. We caution the Supreme Court to be mindful that determining the best interest of a child is a weighty responsibility, and that it ordinarily should not make such a determination without conducting an evidentiary hearing. Matter of Noel v Melle, 2017 NY Slip Op 05226, 2nd Dept 6-28-17