By MARIE FIERO
Witnesses urged state assembly members to change “outdated” laws on Thursday to protect children in custody battles.
“Five years ago, I never thought I would say my daughter Kyra, who’s right here, would be murdered by her father,” said Jacqueline Franchetti, pointing to a photo of the toddler. “Five years ago I thought New York’s family court system would protect the most vulnerable in our society, our children, I thought they would keep Kyra safe.”
Franchetti runs a foundation named after her daughter that, in part, aims to keep children from the custody of domestic abusers. Kyra was killed by her father in 2015. He shot her twice in the back while she slept, and then lit his house on fire and committed suicide.
Franchetti and other witnesses asked the state assembly people of the committees on the judiciary, social services, and children and families to mandate that forensic evaluators to get training to work on custody cases. The law would require training for child custody forensic evaluators, who make custody decisions in contentious cases, which judges almost always follow, according to Robin M. Lynch, the Chair of the New York State Psychological Association’s Child Custody Evaluation Committee. Often judges allow parents accused of physical, sexual, and emotional abuse to have partial or full custody.
“There is nothing less than children’s lives at stake,” Lynch said.
Lawyer Nancy S. Erickson, and Meredith Lee Price from Safe Horizons, a victim services non-profit, both agreed that the position needs to be changed from “evaluator” to “investigator” in order to take some of the personal bias out of the case studies. They also think judges should come up with their own conclusions rather than getting conclusions from these forensic evaluators.
Price pointed out that there are certain judges that repeatedly do not take assault allegations seriously, and that they are breaking the current custody laws and should be taken to court.
“And when I would go before Nassau County Judge Danielle Peterson, instead of being sympathetic, she would yell at me to grow up. Now Kyra, because of Judge Peterson will never grow up,” said Franchetti, while explaining her experiences reporting her ex’s domestic abuse.
Erickson also argued for the need of provisions added to the “friendly parent doctrine” to protect custodial parents from ex-spouses, who sexually or physically abuse their ex-spouse or their child. The “friendly parent” rule says that custodial parents must make sure the non-custodial parent has “meaningful contact” with their child. If the custodial parent doesn’t let the other parent see the child, even if that non-custodial parent is dangerous, the custodial parent can lose their custody of the child.
In other testimony, Deputy Commissioner of Child Support Services Eileen Stack criticized the ancient rules that dictate how to recoup unclaimed child support can. The rules have not been updated since the 1970s, she said. Stack explained that unclaimed child support can take seven years to find the correct destination because of the rigorous court process the money must go through.
“Even a small lump sum of money can make a huge difference to these families in need,” Stack said.
She said the technology exists now for these unclaimed funds to find their rightful owners through the comptroller’s website.
Photo by Marie Fiero