Pandis v. Lapas

Decision Date09 October 2019
Docket NumberIndex No. 471/12,2018-09523
Citation176 A.D.3d 837,111 N.Y.S.3d 667
Parties Andrew PANDIS, Appellant, v. Fay LAPAS, Respondent.
CourtNew York Supreme Court — Appellate Division

Andrew Pandis, Floral Park, NY, appellant pro se.

Sacco & Fillas, LLP, Astoria, N.Y. (Patricia R. Lynch of counsel), for respondent.

Law Offices of Joseph H. Nivin, P.C., Forest Hills, NY, attorney for the children.

MARK C. DILLON, J.P., JOHN M. LEVENTHAL, JOSEPH J. MALTESE, LINDA CHRISTOPHER, JJ.

DECISION & ORDER

In an action for divorce and ancillary relief, the plaintiff appeals from a judgment of divorce of the Supreme Court, Queens County (Elisa S. Koenderman, J.), entered June 18, 2018. The judgment of divorce, insofar as appealed from, upon an order of the same court dated November 15, 2017, made after a nonjury trial, granted the defendant sole custody of the parties' son, denied the plaintiff parental access with the parties' son, awarded the defendant maintenance in the sum of $1,750 per month for a period of six years, and directed the plaintiff to pay the sum of $3,593.75 per month in child support for the parties' two children and 69% of the children's add-on expenses, including private school tuition and college tuition.

ORDERED that the judgment is affirmed insofar as appealed from, with costs.

The parties were married in 1992. There are two children of the marriage, S.P., born in 1999, and N.P., born in 2005. The plaintiff commenced this action for divorce and ancillary relief on January 9, 2012.

In an order dated November 15, 2017, made after a nonjury trial, the Supreme Court awarded the defendant sole custody of the children, and declined to direct any parental access between the plaintiff and the children. The court found that the plaintiff, through his own actions, had alienated the defendant and the children against himself. The court further found that it was in the children's best interests to have no visitation with the plaintiff because of the plaintiff's "history of abusive behavior, his denial of responsibility for his action[s] and his lack of capacity for change." As for maintenance, the court attributed an annual income of $275,310 to the plaintiff and an annual income of $92,000 to the defendant, and directed the plaintiff to pay the defendant maintenance in the sum of $1,750 per month for six years. In terms of child support, the court set the combined parental income cap at $250,000. The court directed the plaintiff to pay child support in the sum of $3,593.75 per month, which was 69% of the basic child support for the two children. The court also directed the plaintiff to pay 69% of the children's add-on expenses, including private school tuition and college tuition.

The Supreme Court entered a judgment of divorce, upon the order, on June 18, 2018. The plaintiff appeals from the stated portions of the judgment of divorce. Because S.P. has attained the age of 18, the plaintiff challenges the provisions of the judgment of divorce related to custody and parental access only with respect to N.P.

"The court's paramount concern in any custody dispute is to determine, under the totality of the circumstances, what is in the best interests of the child" ( Matter of Mejia v. Llarena , 172 A.D.3d 720, 721, 99 N.Y.S.3d 446 ; see Eschbach v. Eschbach , 56 N.Y.2d 167, 171, 451 N.Y.S.2d 658, 436 N.E.2d 1260 ; Cunningham v. Brutman , 150 A.D.3d 815, 815, 55 N.Y.S.3d 269 ). "In determining an initial petition for child custody, the totality of the circumstances, includes, but is not limited to, (1) which alternative will best promote stability; (2) the available home environments; (3) the past performance of each parent; (4) each parent's relative fitness, including his or her ability to guide the child, provide for the child's overall well being, and foster the child's relationship with the noncustodial parent; and (5) the child's desires’ " ( Matter of McPherson v. McPherson , 139 A.D.3d 953, 954, 30 N.Y.S.3d 705, quoting Matter of Supangkat v. Torres , 101 A.D.3d 889, 890, 954 N.Y.S.2d 915 ). "A custody determination depends to a great extent upon an assessment of the character and credibility of the parties and witnesses. Because the hearing court is able to observe witnesses and evaluate evidence firsthand, its determination is generally accorded deference on appeal and will not be disturbed unless it lacks a sound and substantial basis in the record" ( Cunningham v. Brutman , 150 A.D.3d at 815, 55 N.Y.S.3d 269 ; see Matter of Monasterska v. Burns , 121 A.D.3d 903, 903, 994 N.Y.S.2d 371 ).

Furthermore, where, as here, "allegations of domestic violence are proven by a preponderance of the evidence, ‘the court must consider the effect of such domestic violence upon the best interests of the child’ " ( Matter of Khaykin v. Kanayeva , 47 A.D.3d 817, 818, 849 N.Y.S.2d 646, quoting Domestic Relations Law § 240[1][a] ; see Matter of Scott v. Thompson , 166 A.D.3d 627, 628, 87 N.Y.S.3d 211 ; Matter of Supangkat v. Torres , 101 A.D.3d at 890, 954 N.Y.S.2d 915 ).

Contrary to the plaintiff's contention, there was a sound and substantial basis in the record to award the defendant sole custody of N.P. in light of the evidence of the plaintiff's abusive behavior toward the defendant and the children, his inability to reflect on his mistakes and accept responsibility for his behavior, N.P.'s fear of the plaintiff, and the evidence that N.P. was thriving under the defendant's care. We accord deference to the Supreme Court's determination to credit the testimony of the defendant and the forensic examiner, as well as the court's determination that the plaintiff's testimony was contrived and implausible (see Cunningham v. Brutman , 150 A.D.3d at 815, 55 N.Y.S.3d 269 ).

The plaintiff contends, in effect, that the defendant alienated the children from him. "Parental alienation of a child from the [non-custodial] parent is ‘an act so inconsistent with the best interests of the children as to, per se, raise a strong probability that the [offending party] is unfit to act as a custodial parent’ " ( Matter of Doroski v. Ashton , 99 A.D.3d 902, 903, 952 N.Y.S.2d 259, quoting Entwistle v. Entwistle , 61 A.D.2d 380, 384–385, 402 N.Y.S.2d 213 ; see Matter of Vargas v. Gutierrez , 155 A.D.3d 751, 753, 64 N.Y.S.3d 76 ). Here, however, the plaintiff "failed to present sufficient evidence of parental alienation" because the record shows that the deterioration of the relationship between the plaintiff and the children was due to the plaintiff's own conduct ( Matter of Sanders v. Jaco , 148 A.D.3d 812, 813, 48 N.Y.S.3d 729 ).

Contrary to the plaintiff's contention, the Supreme Court did not err in failing to order an updated forensic report. An updated forensic evaluation is not required where, as here, "the court possessed sufficient information to render an informed decision regarding custody consistent with the subject children's best interests" ( Cook v. Cook , 142 A.D.3d 530, 533, 36 N.Y.S.3d 222 ; see Matter of Samuel v. Sowers , 162 A.D.3d 674, 675, 78 N.Y.S.3d 231 ; Matter of Keyes v. Watson , 133 A.D.3d 757, 758, 21 N.Y.S.3d 263 ).

There was sound and substantial evidence in the record to deny the plaintiff parental access with N.P. "Parental access is a ‘joint right of the noncustodial parent and of the child’ " ( Matter of Parris v. Wright , 170 A.D.3d 731, 731, 96 N.Y.S.3d 60, quoting Weiss v. Weiss , 52 N.Y.2d 170, 175, 436 N.Y.S.2d 862, 418 N.E.2d 377 ; see Matter of Dey v. Minvielle , 154 A.D.3d 750, 751, 61 N.Y.S.3d 685 ). "[Parental access] with a noncustodial parent is presumed to be in the best interests of the child, although the presumption may be overcome ‘upon a showing, by a preponderance of the evidence, that [parental access] would be harmful to the child's welfare or not in the child's best interests’ " ( Matter of Dey v. Minvielle , 154 A.D.3d at 751, 61 N.Y.S.3d 685, quoting Matter of Kadio v. Volino , 126 A.D.3d 1253, 1254, 4 N.Y.S.3d 766 ). "The determination to suspend a parent's parental access is within the sound discretion of the [trial court] based upon the best interests of the child, and its determination will not be set aside unless it lacks a sound and substantial basis in the record" ( Matter of Mia C. [Misael C.] , 168 A.D.3d 836, 837, 91 N.Y.S.3d 475 ; see Matter of Lupo v. Rainsford , 162 A.D.3d 1032, 1033, 80 N.Y.S.3d 140 ).

Here, there is a sound and substantial basis in the record to show that [parental access] would be harmful to N.P.'s welfare. The forensic examiner testified regarding a bizarre meeting between the plaintiff and N.P., where the plaintiff was unresponsive to N.P.'s needs, frightened him, and made attempts to alienate him from the defendant. The evidence of abuse perpetrated by the plaintiff, as well as N.P.'s fear of him, was credible.

"The amount and duration of spousal maintenance is an issue generally committed to the sound discretion of the trial court and each case is to be resolved upon its own unique facts and circumstances" ( Brody v. Brody , 137 A.D.3d 830, 831, 27 N.Y.S.3d 186 ; see Carr–Harris v. Carr–Harris , 98 A.D.3d 548, 551, 949 N.Y.S.2d 707 ). "Although the trial court is required to consider the parties' pre-separation standard of living in determining the appropriate amount and duration of maintenance, the...

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12 cases
  • Brown v. Simon
    • United States
    • New York Supreme Court — Appellate Division
    • 16 June 2021
    ...well being, and foster the child's relationship with the noncustodial parent; and (5) the child's desires (see Pandis v. Lapas, 176 A.D.3d 837, 838–839, 111 N.Y.S.3d 667 ; Matter of McPherson v. McPherson, 139 A.D.3d 953, 954, 30 N.Y.S.3d 705 ; Matter of Supangkat v. Torres, 101 A.D.3d 889,......
  • Burke v. Squires
    • United States
    • New York Supreme Court — Appellate Division
    • 9 February 2022
    ...165 A.D.3d 736, 737, 85 N.Y.S.3d 84, quoting Entwistle v. Entwistle, 61 A.D.2d 380, 384–385, 402 N.Y.S.2d 213 ; see Pandis v. Lapas, 176 A.D.3d 837, 839, 111 N.Y.S.3d 667 ). Here, however, while the mother failed to comply with the father's parental access on multiple occasions, many of the......
  • Fishman v. Fishman
    • United States
    • New York Supreme Court — Appellate Division
    • 2 September 2020
    ...and thus, the court's determination was supported by the testimony and evidence that was presented at the trial (see Pandis v. Lapas, 176 A.D.3d 837, 841, 111 N.Y.S.3d 667 ).Contrary to the plaintiff's contention, the Supreme Court sufficiently articulated its reasons for calculating the pa......
  • Gomez v. Martinez
    • United States
    • New York Supreme Court — Appellate Division
    • 4 November 2020
    ...evaluation to provide sufficient information for a new determination on the merits as to his best interests (cf. Pandis v. Lapas, 176 A.D.3d 837, 111 N.Y.S.3d 667 ).Accordingly, we reverse the order insofar appealed from, and remit the matter to the Family Court, Queens County, for an in ca......
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