The Third Department, reversing Family Court, determined the petitioner (Schenectady County Department of Social Services) did not demonstrate father (respondent) had abandoned the children and, in fact, had improperly prevented father from visiting the children. The abandonment petition should have been dismissed:
… [P]etitioner failed to establish by clear and convincing evidence that respondent evinced an intent to forego his parental rights … . The record demonstrates that respondent filed numerous motions to resume visitation, return his children, intervene in the neglect proceeding against the mother and terminate the children’s placement. During at least one appearance, respondent remarked that he would continue to “battle” for the return of his children, even prompting Family Court to candidly admit that respondent has been an active participant during the entire proceeding … . Respondent had several visits with the children where he inquired if he could obtain their school records and asked what clothing or supplies they needed. The record further reflects that respondent made several inquiries to the caseworker and the mother, including during the delay caused by the pandemic.
… There are several troubling instances in the record where the caseworker or the coordinator cancelled respondent’s scheduled visitation with [*3]the children due to his late confirmation of the scheduled visit or arrival — including one egregious incident where respondent was three minutes late to confirm an appointment for later that day. * * *
Notwithstanding the fact that respondent cancelled one visit due to illness, attended five visits and had seven visits cancelled on him in the foregoing manner, the caseworker then reported to Family Court that respondent had only attended 4 out of 20 scheduled visits. Based on the incorrect information presented by the caseworker — who relied on text messages from the coordinator, who did not testify at the hearing — petitioner was successful in obtaining an order suspending respondent’s visitation with the children in December 2019, thereby making it more difficult for respondent to visit and communicate with the children. Matter of Syri’annah PP. (Sayyid PP.), 2023 NY Slip Op 00252, Third Dept 1-19-23
Practice Point: Here the caseworkers took steps to affirmatively prevent father from seeing his children. The abandonment petition should have been dismissed for failure to demonstrate father’s intent to forego his parental rights.