Dunn v. Harris

CourtNew York Family Court
Writing for the CourtScott A. Miller, J.
Citation2022 NY Slip Op 50641 (U)
PartiesJanelle Dunn, Petitioner, v. Anthony Harris, Respondent.
Decision Date07 July 2022

2022 NY Slip Op 50641(U)

Janelle Dunn, Petitioner,
v.

Anthony Harris, Respondent.

Family Court, Tompkins County

July 7, 2022


Unpublished Opinion

Scott A. Miller, J.

Petitioner Janelle Dunn (hereinafter "the mother") and Respondent Anthony Harris (hereinafter "the father") are the parents of the subject child Renee Dunn-Harris (date of birth: XX/XX/2020) (hereinafter "the child") [1]. This is a proceeding pursuant to Article 6 of the Family Court Act. This action commenced with the mother's filing of a Petition for Modification of a prior custody and visitation order by Order to Show Cause on April 7, 2022. Within her papers, the mother sought sole legal custody and permission to relocate to Denver, Colorado. On April 15, 2022, the father filed an Enforcement Petition. On April 20, 2022, the father filed an Affidavit in Opposition to the mother's Order to Show Cause. On June 21, 2022, the mother filed a second Order to Show Cause, again seeking permission to relocate to Denver, Colorado, but this time for a different job than was first presented to the Court. On June 29, 2022, the father filed an Affidavit in Opposition to the mother's second Order to Show Cause.

An evidentiary hearing was conducted by the Court on July 1, 2022. The mother was represented by Attorney Sujata Ramaiah, the father was represented by Attorney Suzanne Reine, and the child was represented by Attorney Thomas Shannan of Citizens Concerned for Children, Inc. Petitioner's Exhibit 1 as well as all exhibits attached to the mother's Order to Show Cause filed on June 21, 2022, were received into evidence. Respondent's Exhibits A through D and F through I were received into evidence. The court heard testimony from both parties.

The Court searched the statewide registry of orders of protection, the Sex Offender Registry, and the Family Court's child protective records, and notified the parties and the attorneys of the results of these searches.

FINDINGS OF FACT

The Court found the father to be credible in every respect. He is a loving and devoted parent who is committed to developing his relationship with his daughter. He is ready, willing, and able to take on as much care and responsibility for the child as he is allowed. He is also supportive of the mother's relationship with the child. By contrast, the Court did not find the mother to be credible in significant areas of her testimony such as her stated intentions for seeking relocation, her belief that the father committed domestic violence against her in the past, and her characterization of how important decisions regarding the child have been made. The Court finds that the mother has excluded the father from all decision-making, that she does not value the relationship between the father and the child, and that she seeks long-distance relocation to sever the growing bond between father and daughter.

The current Order of Custody and Visitation, entered on December 14, 2021, after a limited fact-finding hearing, granted the parties joint legal custody, with the parents having a "duty to communicate fully and work cooperatively with each other on essential and important decisions. However, if they cannot agree after a good faith effort the mother shall have final decision-making authority." (Order of Custody and Visitation entered December 14, 2021). The Order further grants the mother primary placement, with the father to have liberal and regular visitation with the child. As long as the father child-proofed his outlets, ensured a safe bed for the child, purchased child utensils and cups, immediately made efforts to obtain his full driver's license, and immediately purchased a car seat, the father was to have one 24-hour overnight visit per week beginning March 1, 2022, and he was to have two 24-hour overnight visits per week beginning June 1, 2022. (Order of Custody and Visitation entered December 14, 2021).

The mother violated this Order by refusing to allow the father to begin overnight visitation on March 1, 2022, as ordered, despite the father having complied with all prerequisites. The father was only able to begin exercising his overnight visitation on May 1, 2022, following the filing of his Enforcement Petition on April 15, 2022, and following the initial appearance in this matter on April 25, 2022, during which the Court cautioned the mother that," overnights need to be followed per the order."

Immediately upon (delayed) commencement of the father's overnight visitation, the mother again violated the Order by unreasonably interfering with the father's parenting time. She informed the father that, per the Order, she is permitted to twice interrupt the father's overnight parenting time to breastfeed the two-year-old child, both before bed and again in the morning. Nowhere in the Order is this provision to be found, and this Court never issued such an order. If the mother truly believed that the two-year-old child required breastmilk during her 24-hour visit with the father, the mother could have provided the father with pumped breastmilk. She did not. (Respondent's Exhibit I). As such, the Court can only conclude that the mother is intentionally interfering with the parental bond between the father and the child.

The mother has consistently treated the father with arrogance, accusation, and palpable disdain. Her hostile treatment of the father is revealed by text messages submitted by both parties. (Order to Show Cause filed June 21, 2022, Exhibit H; Respondent's Exhibit D, F, G, I). The mother's text messages to the father have a combative, interrogative, almost abusive tone. Through her treatment of the father, the mother has revealed not only that she is unwilling to foster the father's relationship with the child but also that she is intentionally thwarting it.

Although there is no currently pending family offense petition, the mother previously filed a family offense petition against the father. The family offense petition was never litigated and was instead settled on consent with no admission of wrongdoing under a final, non-harassing order of protection against the father in favor of the mother issued on December 9, 2021, and expiring December 9, 2022. In the instant evidentiary hearing, the mother testified about her prior domestic violence allegations. The Court did not find the mother to be credible. Her descriptions were rushed and vague. She testified that, in the weeks and months following the child's birth, the mother would "try to have private moments and breastfeed [her] daughter" but that the father "would be there." She testified, "I would have to go hide myself. He would get frustrated. I would get frustrated. I had to lock myself in the bedroom so we could nurse in peace. [The father] kept bothering me. He would try to put the child on [my breast] to latch. What would be helpful would be to stay calm." On one occasion, the child was crying. The mother testified that the father "grabbed" the child out of the mother's arms and also at some point "grabbed" the mother's arm. As a result, the mother called the Cornell University Police Department and obtained an order of protection against the father. This was the basis for the mother's family offense petition against the father. This was the extent of the mother's allegations of domestic violence by the father.

Again, while there is no currently pending family offense petition, the Court finds that the father never committed domestic violence against the mother as the mother's evidence fails to establish by a preponderance that the father committed a family offense against her at any time. The mother was not credible. Even assuming her testimony to be true, she did not meet her evidentiary burden of proving that the father's physical contact with her or the child was done with the intent to "harass, annoy, or alarm." In fact, there is every indication that the father was trying to help resolve a difficult situation for the new parents and their crying baby. It is clear that the mother has levied false allegations of domestic violence against the father for over two years in an effort to sabotage his relationship with the child. As the father does not pose a danger to the mother or child in any way, there is no support in the record for the currently pending Address Confidentiality Order.

Recently, on April 16, 2022, the mother again called the police on the father when he unknowingly failed to comply with her last-minute change in the pick-up location following a visit. The mother was aware that the child was safe directly across the street at the paternal grandmother's home and that the father simply did not see the mother's text message sent less than 30 minutes prior. The mother's actions subjected the two-year-old child to police contact for no legitimate purpose.

The mother obtained her master's degree in higher education and student affairs leadership from the University of Northern Colorado in 2017. From 2017 until February of 2022, the mother worked as a residence hall director at a residential college at Cornell University. Although offered a full-time position for $42,00 per year, the mother opted for a part-time position that paid her $33,000 per year. As part of her employment, the mother and the child received free room and board within the residential hall on the Cornell campus. Additional compensation included free utilities, free internet, and a free partial meal plan.

The mother voluntarily resigned from this position in February of 2022 because "the requirements of [her] work were increasing and it was jeopardizing [her] breastfeeding time." She testified that, even if she wanted to, she would not have been permitted to extend her employment at Cornell past June 1, 2022.

Since quitting her position at Cornell in February of 2022, the mother has been "applying [herself] to the gig industry," working as a driver/runner for Uber, Uber...

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