The Fourth Department, reversing Family Court, over a two-justice dissent, determined the grandparents established extraordinary circumstances necessitating a best interests hearing before a ruling on mother’s request for a modification of custody. Mother sought to regain custody of the child who was eight years old and had resided with the grandparents for his entire life:
It is undisputed that the child, who was eight years old at the time of the hearing, had lived with the grandparents for his entire life in the only home he has ever known; the child expressed a strong desire to continue residing with his grandparents and the AFC adheres to that position on appeal; the mother and the father both suffered from severe substance abuse problems for years and were unable to care for the child on their own; the mother failed to contact the child for a period of 18 months before resuming visitation in January 2018; the child’s half-sister also resided with the grandparents and the child developed a sibling relationship with her; and “the grand[parents] ha[ve] taken care of the child for most of his life and provided him with stability” … Additionally, according to the AFC, the child had “developed a strong emotional bond with the grand[parents]” … .
… [W]e conclude that, “even if the prolonged separation alone is entitled to little significance here, the combination of that factor along with others present on this record sufficiently establish the existence of extraordinary circumstances” … , and that the court’s contrary determination is not supported by a sound and substantial basis in the record.
… [W]e remit the matter to Family Court for a new hearing to determine whether the modifications of the prior order sought by the mother are in the best interests of the child … . Matter of Tuttle v Worthington, 2023 NY Slip Op 04282, Fourth Dept 8-11-23
Practice Point: The child’s grandparents made a showing of extraordinary circumstances requiring a best interests of the child hearing before ruling on mother’s petition for a modification of custody. The child, eight years old, had lived his entire life with his grandparents.