Bennett was a 15 year-old
unwed mother. Her parents made her give her child (Gina) to a family
friend to raise.
There was conflicting
testimony, but Bennett never surrendered custody, nor did she abandon the
No court order was ever
given to Jeffreys to make her custodian of the child. It was all done
Seven years later, Bennett had
graduated college and had her life together. She asked for her child
back. Jeffreys refused. Bennett sued for custody.
The Trial Court awarded
custody to Jeffreys. Bennett appealed.
The Trial Court found that
Bennett had not surrendered custody, abandoned the child, or was unfit.
However, the Court simply
found that since the child had been living with Jeffreys so long, she
should stay there.
The Appellate Court reversed.
The Appellate Court found
that the parent is entitled to custody unless there is a finding that she
is unfit or abandoned the child, which there wasn't.
The New York State Supreme Court
reversed and remanded for a new trial.
The New York State Supreme
Court found that the State may not deprive a parent of custody of a child
absent surrender, abandonment, persisting neglect, unfitness, or other
extraordinary circumstances that drastically affect the welfare of the
Aka a parental
The Court found that once an
extraordinary circumstance is found, then and only then should the courts
make an inquiry into what the best interests of the child are.
In this case, the extraordinary
circumstance of the prolonged separation of the mother and child
required an inquiry into the best interests of the child.
The Court found that
neither the Trial Court nor the Appellate Court had considered the best
interests of the child.
The Court remanded with
instructions to examine the relative qualifications and background of
both Jeffreys and Bennett and determine the best interests of the child.
In the meantime, temporary
custody was awarded to Bennett.
Upon remand (Bennett v.
Marrow (59 A.D.2d 492, 399, N.Y.S.2d
697 (1977)), the Trial Court awarded custody to Jeffreys (now remarried
and named Marrow). Bennett appealed.
The Trial Court conducted
interviews, talked to child psychologists, and made a best interests determination that the child should be
returned to Jeffreys.
The child wanted to live
with Jeffreys, and was having difficulty adjusting to live with Bennett.
The Court gave Bennett some
The New York Supreme Court
Because Jeffreys had the
child for so long, she was the de facto parent, and basically she was kind of a 'parent by
The basic rule when making
custody decisions is that courts cannot go straight to a best interests test to determine custody when it is a parent
vs. a non-parent, because there is a parental presumption that a parent has a fundamental right to raise their own child. It is only when the parental
presumption is rebutted with clear
and convincing evidence can the courts
consider best interests.
In this case, the
extraordinary circumstance of the prolonged separation of the mother and
child overcame the parental presumption.