The First Department, reversing Family Court, determined the court did not have sufficient evidence before it to grant father’s petition for custody when mother did not appear:
While the decision to grant or deny a motion to vacate a default rests in the sound discretion of the court, “default orders are disfavored in cases involving the custody or support of children, and thus the rules with respect to vacating default judgments are not to be applied as rigorously” … .
Although the mother did not demonstrate a reasonable excuse for her default in the change of custody case, she had a meritorious defense. The children have resided primarily with her, and insufficient evidence was submitted to make an informed change of circumstances determination (see Family Ct Act § 467[b][ii]) that serves the best interests of the children … .
Also, the court failed to sua sponte appoint an attorney for the children, which, based upon the insufficient evidence it had to make an informed best interests determination, would have been advisable … . Matter of Abel A. v Imanda M., 2018 NY Slip Op 09000, First Dept 12-27-18