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New York family court orders trump criminal ones on child custody

Family courts in New York now have the ability to assign custody to parents who previously were barred by criminal court orders if those orders allow for future changes. The decision came at the end of 2012 and opened the door for parents who had improved their circumstances to obtain child custody when doing so is in the best interests of the child involved. This decision gives hope to certain parents who have lost their rights due to criminal charges.

Appellate court judges ruled in favor of a mother trying to regain visitation rights after a criminal court found her guilty of physically abusing her son. The mother had lost custody to both of her children, was required to complete a parenting course and was barred from contacting her son for five years. The order was changed to say that it was "subject to family court" rulings after the mother had completed her court-ordered programs.

The judge presiding over the initial case in May found against the mother, saying that while the court felt it was in the best interests of the children to be reunited with her, the court did not have the jurisdiction to override the criminal court's order of protection. Seven months later, that decision was overturned. Not only was the mother able to contact her son again, but she regained physical custody of both children.

Parents who lose contact with their children for any number of reasons may feel their situations are hopeless. Child custody disputes during divorce or criminal proceedings may not bar parents from their children forever. It is possible for orders of protection to be amended and for family courts to decide that it is best for parents to be involved in their children's lives again.

Source: Thomson Reuters, "NY family court may grant parent custody despite criminal bar," Daniel Wiessner, Dec. 27, 2012

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