Key Family Law Bill Stalls in State Assembly

It now appears that Assemblywoman Latoya Joyner’s bill, which was introduced with much fanfare in January, is a long shot to reach Governor Cuomo’s desk before the legislative session ends.

The Bronx Democrat’s bill would allow state family court judges to allow contact between parents who have lost their legal rights and their biological children.

The measure contains no factors for the judge to consider, but rather gives judges almost unlimited discretion in this area. Furthermore, the judge could prohibit physical contact, but allow contact via social media or even via letter. A number of criminal defense and family law groups have endorsed this bill. This includes Brooklyn Defender Services, Legal Aid Society, Bronx Defenders, and Lawyers for Children.

The Senate Senate Committee on Children and Families voted on A02199A in June, and referred it to "Rules".

“This bill is radical on its face,” remarked Syracuse family law attorney Richard J. Bombardo. “The potential ripple effects, which could be felt in almost every child custody dispute in the state, are even more radical.”

Assemblywoman Joyner and her colleagues drafted A02199A in response to In Re Hailey ZZ, a decision which many people deemed excessively cruel, he explained. This 2012 case involved a man who had been released from prison. While incarcerated, Social Services convinced a court to terminate his parental rights. A judge ruled that he could not contact his daughter after he got out.

A02199A would reverse that result and allow parent-child contact after termination.

The same thing applies to parents who give up their children for adoption and later want to bond with them, as well as parents who lose their children because of drug addiction or other serious problems and later overcome those challenges. The radical thing about this bill is that it applies to involuntary terminations as well as voluntary ones. Even more, it alters the definition of the best interests of the children. Under current New York law, the children’s bests interests are basically synonymous with the children’s needs. A02199A significantly expands that concept.

Particularly in involuntary termination cases, the court cut parent/child ties because that contact was not in the best interests of the child.

So, under A02199A, best interests include not only the needs of the child, but also the wishes of that child and the best interests of the parents. In terms of this bill’s impact, relocations are a good example. Assume Mother, who is the residential custodian, wants to move further away from her parents, and she wants to take the children with her. All other things being equal; that move is in the best interests of the mother, but probably not in the best interests of the children. At best, the children do not gain anything. So, a judge might deny a motion to modify. But A02199A changes the rules. If a previously-terminated parent can contact a child, this Mother should be able to move with the children.

We will be watching A02199A closely as the session closes. If it does not pass "Rules" this year, there is a good chance Assemblywoman Joyner and her allies may reintroduce it next year.

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