Lawyer Nicholas Hicks Explains Extraordinary Circumstances in Child Custody Cases

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To help clarify child custody laws used in New York, lawyer Nicholas Hicks shines a light on the meaning of ‘extraordinary circumstances’. 

Parents always have preference over non-parents when it comes to claiming custody over a child. For a parent to not be chosen as a guardian, the court must determine that extraordinary circumstances exist. Lawyer Nichols Hicks explains that in 1976, the standard was set in place due to the Bennet v. Jeffreys case.  Since then, additional court cases have shed more light on the legal meaning of ‘extraordinary circumstance’. 

The general guidelines state that extraordinary circumstances include surrender, persisting neglect, disruption of custody over an extended period, unfitness to be a parent or comparable situations. The court must find one of these circumstances for a child to be awarded to a someone other than a biological parent. Lawyer Nicholas Hicks notes that  most individuals who are non-parents are not given “standing” to have the case heard by a court unless ‘extraordinary circumstances’ exist.

The case will be dismissed if the judge determines that the non-parents standing does not reveal extraordinary circumstances. However, extraordinary circumstances are identified by the court, then the court has the authority to decide if it is in the best interest of the child to be placed with a non-parent. Lawyer Nicholas Hicks explains that parents have the fundamental right to raise their children unless the children are in harm’s way. 

For example, a parent’s prior history of domestic violence and child neglect can be used as a cause for an extraordinary circumstance. Additionally, Lawyer Nicholas Hicks notes that many people are surprised to find that lack of involvement in a child’s life can also be considered an extraordinary circumstance.  Some situations of abandonment, even short term, also count depending on the circumstances. 

That being said, a child cannot be taken away from a parent because someone else might do a better job, or because the child has a better relationship with a non-parent. Again, lawyer Nicholas Hicks stresses the fundamental right that parents have to raise their children however they choose. Like most family law cases, there are no concrete rules or straight lines when it comes to child custody, only general guidelines that are used on a case by case basis. 

Skilled attorneys that have experience with child custody cases are helpful on every side of the case because they can offer clear presentations and arguments. The New York trial courts have full authority to make the final decision on the custody of the children. Court officials must use their discretion when determining the credibility of each witness in the case, which is why hiring legal counsel is so important. Although the outcome can be appealed, lawyer Nicholas Hicks notes that it is very unlikely to be changed. 

Once a custody order is made in favor of one parent or a non-parent, new evidence must be presented, which shows a change in circumstances. Some case laws, however, put non-parents on an equal level with parents once they’ve been given custody due to extraordinary circumstances. Lawyer Nicholas Hicks explains that these custody modification cases require more time, scrutiny and analysis compared to ensure the changes are real and long-lasting. 

It is not favorable to move children around unnecessarily, as they need consistency, structure, and support. Lawyer Nicholas Hicks suggests contacting legal help for more insight about your specific situation.

About Lawyer Nicholas Hicks:

Nicholas Hicks was rescued from NYC foster care as a child at the age of 5 years old. Lawyer Nicholas Hicks attended both public and private schools where he eventually graduated from ECC, UB & UB Law School. He specializes in various areas of practice, including injury cases, debt elimination, criminal defense, divorce, child support, child custody, and more.