Aug 14 2010

Dad Loses Custody of Kids to Skype!

A Long Island father who had joint custody of his children will now only get to see them via Skype, because of a judge’s ruling allowing the mother of the children to relocate to Florida. It’s a sad tale with no winners, folks.  The Bakers married in 2000 and divorced in 2008.  Since then, both parents Mom Debra and Dad James had joint custody and were  involved in their lives. But then James developed bladder cancer, lost his job, and had major surgery.  He now has started doing construction earning only $600 a month. Debra, an unemployed bookkeeper who lost her job to a lay-off in December, dreams of greener pastures in Florida, where her parents reside.

She sought permission to re-locate to Florida and take her 6year old and 9 year old with her. According to the  decision in Baker v. Baker, ” [The father] pled with the Court not to take his children away as he loves them dearly.”

So the judge was in a difficult position – let the kids move somewhere where they can live for free and make it easier for Mom to support them, but doing so would wipe out James’ parental rights to joint custody.  The court decided to allow the move but require Mom to install Skype on her computer in Florida and allow one-hour visits with the children three times a week via Skype. He will also get three weeks with them physically in NY over the summer.

Relocating children in a divorce out-of-state is a very difficult proposition and one which NY courts do not entertain lightly.  This decision –  a first in NY, though similar orders have occurred in a handful of other States-  replaces the physical attention and love of a parent with a mandated meeting at a computer terminal. How long before those kids object to HAVING to sit in front of a computer for an hour -that’s a long time for a 6 year old-  for their mandated Daddy sessions? I give it two months. What happens then? Will Dad be required to get a Florida court order to FORCE his kids to watch Daddy TV? That will be pleasant.  Dad will have the choice of alienating his kids or give up his face time to make them happy.  Daddy will likely have to relocate himself if he ever wants to have a real relationship with his children again. Not a great prospect since there is no construction happening in Florida now or the foreseeable future.

So – right or wrong? Somewhere in the middle? Who knows?  I think this first step toward video-parenting could be expanded to seriously impair the rights of parents to prevent relocation of their children.  Normally relocating one’s kids away from a custodial parent is not an easy thing to do.  You need to establish true financial hardship or great financial opportunity or a disinterested uninvolved co-parent.   What concerns me the most is that I know these sessions will turn into a chore and an obstacle to the kids. What you can’t tell from the decision is how hard everyone involved tried to find a suitable alternative before taking this drastic step.  We hope that they explored every other avenue and tried to decide this in what was in the best interest if the children.

Where was King Solomon when we needed him?

2 comments

    • David on August 28, 2013 at 11:06 am
    • Reply

    What a terrible decision – the Judge should resign. How can side-lining a parent in favor of another possibly be in the interests of the children that need both parents? The consensus in the literature is pretty clear- it is almost always better to have both parents active in a child’s life. These two parents decided on their own will to have their children. The Mother needs to be an adult and work with the Father to co-parent their children for the time required. Having children is an important multi-year commitment.

    It is frankly disturbing that a Judge and lawyers would ever advocate for a such a decision that will clearly harm these children and hence, signal to society and others that these decisions are not about the welfare of children but about supporting self-centered parents. With Judges and lawyers like this no wonder we have so many societal challenges.

    1. I think you hit the nail on the head when you noted that the mother should also realize that this is not in the child’s best interests overall. This is not a parenting blog, so I won’t add anything directly on the subject because your response says it all really. But from a lawyering point of view, lawyers should also realize that they need to advise and caution clients not to pursue any and every point just because they can or because it will hurt the other side. You need to look at the issue globally and on a long term basis to make sure you are not cutting off your nose to spite your face.

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