Of v. Courtney C., G-12870-1/19, G-12780-1/19/20A

CourtNew York County Court
Writing for the CourtJavier E. Vargas, J.
Citation150 N.Y.S.3d 571 (Table),72 Misc.3d 1216 (A)
Parties In the Matter of a Proceeding Under the Article 6 of the Family Court Act and the Surrogate's Court Procedure Act, CHARISS C., Petitioner, v. JOSE G. and Courtney C., Respondents.
Decision Date06 August 2021
Docket NumberG-12870-1/19, G-12780-1/19/20A

72 Misc.3d 1216 (A)
150 N.Y.S.3d 571 (Table)

In the Matter of a Proceeding Under the Article 6 of the Family Court Act and the Surrogate's Court Procedure Act, CHARISS C., Petitioner,
v.
JOSE G. and Courtney C., Respondents.

G-12870-1/19, G-12780-1/19/20A

Family Court, New York, Kings County.

Decided on August 6, 2021


Javier E. Vargas, J.

Papers Numbered

Summons, Petition for Custody & Exhibits Annexed 1

Summons, Petition for Custody & Exhibits Annexed 2

Exhibits admitted in Evidence 3

Court Proceedings Recordings 4

Upon the foregoing papers, the evidentiary virtual bench trial presided by the undersigned from August 28, 2020 to June 24, 2021, the exhibits admitted into evidence and for the following reasons, the Petition by Petitioner Chariss C. (hereinafter "Grandmother"), for sole guardianship of the subject Children, is granted in accordance with the following decision.

I.

The following facts are essentially undisputed. While residing at the Grandmother's house, Respondent Courtney C. (hereinafter "Mother") gave birth out-of-wedlock to the subject Children, born in 2010 and 2013. The Father of the Children is Respondent Jose G. (hereinafter "Father"), but he has rarely been involved or provided for the Children. It has been the Grandmother and her husband, Marion Jackson, who primarily provided for the Children's support, food, housing and education. Although the Mother and the Children were living with the Grandmother and her husband, the Mother unexpectedly left the residence with the Children in September 2018 without divulging their whereabouts or permitting visitation with the Children.

As a result, by Petitions for Appointment of Guardian of the Person dated May 9, 2019, the Grandmother commenced the instant Guardianship proceedings seeking to be appointed guardian for the Children, alleging that she can provide a stable and loving environment for the Children because they have always resided with her, the Mother "has mental issues that are unresolved," and the Father "has not been part of their lives." Both the Mother and Father initially appeared to answer and opposed the Petitions, and County Law § 18B counsel were promptly appointed to them as well as for the Children by the Children's Law Center. However, the Father continuously declined to cooperate with his counsel or fully participate in the proceedings and was eventually defaulted. Commencing in June 2019, the Undersigned issued Temporary Orders of Guardianship in favor of the Grandmother for her to make residential, medical and educational decisions for the Children, while providing for day visitation to the Mother, which the Court continued throughout the proceedings. Problems arose based on the Mother's repeated refusal to cooperate in enrolling the Children in school and in providing their prescribed medications to the Grandmother, requiring repeated court intervention.

In accordance with the requirements of the Surrogate's Court Procedure Act, the Court received New York State Central Registry results clearing the Grandmother and all persons over the age of 18 residing in the home of any child abuse or maltreatment. The Mother, who had an indicated report for lack of medical care in 2013, was transient during the proceedings, living with her Paternal Grandmother, Selena Lofton, as of May 2019, then a maternal aunt in Long Island until December 2020, and now with her cousin. Given the allegations made against the Mother and the Grandmother, this Court ordered and received two Court Ordered Investigations ("COI") dated September 18, 2019 and September 25, 2020, prepared by the New York City Administration of Children's Services. Among other things, both COI Reports reflect that the Grandmother has been the primary caretaker of the Children, who are thriving in her home, while the Mother had a history of domestic violence allegations against her, the past indicated report of neglect, and her residences could not be properly evaluated despite repeated attempts.

While the case was sub judice, the terrible COVID-19 Pandemic descended upon the World temporary paralyzing nonemergency matters pending in all New York courts, and thereby requiring the implementation of virtual proceedings and conferences using Skype and then Microsoft Teams platforms. All counsel and parties in the Family Court became proficient and began utilizing the virtual format for their pending proceedings. Several conferences were held virtually in this case via Teams before the Undersigned from home, Chambers and then from the empty courtroom.

II.

Despite the Mother's inadequacies and failure to engage in visitation with the Children, she recalcitrantly argued for sole custody and guardianship of the Children. Hence, the highly contested hearing between the Grandmother and the Mother commenced on August 28, 2020 in a virtual fashion via Microsoft Teams, without objection. At the commencement of the trial, the Grandmother testified virtually that the Children have been living with her all their life and with the Mother in their three-bedroom apartment. She resides there with her husband and the Children, who each has his own bedroom. The Grandmother, who is employed by the U.S. Postal Service, and her husband, a supervisor at a real estate company, have financially supported the Children, given the Mother's irregular and sporadic employment. In fact, the Grandmother testified that the Mother has never financially supported the Children, send them letters or cards, or bought them any clothes or food. She analogized the Mother as merely a babysitter for the Children while Grandmother worked. It was the Grandmother who enrolled the Children in school full time and provided medical coverage for them.

The Grandmother further testified that early on she noticed that the older Child was nonverbal, nor progressing or developing in a normative way, and she made doctors' appointments and scheduled therapy sessions, which eventually rendered a diagnosis of pervasive development disorder and autism. The Mother will sometimes go to the appointments, but it was the Grandmother who arranged for the Child to receive early intervention, several speech and occupational therapies, and at home services. Currently, the Older Child attends a special school, while the younger graduated from special education to the regular educational program at P.S. 156. Since March 2020, they were attending school remotely and eventually will be attending in person as arranged by the Grandmother. As for medical coverage, the Children receive Medicaid and Health Plus insurance, more specifically Empire Blue Cross Blue Shield.

The Grandmother...

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