Arguments heard Friday, May 5; decision expected shortly
BY DYLAN SKRILOFF
Six and a half years after Rockland County Family Court separated Susan Carrington from her two daughters, the Maryland mother awaits a ruling in her home state that could determine whether she finally sees her kids again. In the time that’s elapsed her daughters have grown from seven and eight-year-olds to 13 and 14-year-olds, respectively, without any contact from their mother mainly via the Rockland Family Court’s unusual use of protective orders to eliminate visitation.
Carrington long contended that Maryland was the state with legitimate jurisdiction in the case, as the New York Court failed to acquire jurisdiction in compliance with the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Enforcement Act.
Carrington has argued that the Maryland court system granted her shared physical custody of her children, but the Rockland County Family Court has instead sided completely with her ex-husband John McNelis, of the influential McNelis family. Carrington claims that Rockland judges acted in conflict and showed bias om favor of McNelis due to his connections in the county and took irregular steps to interfere with her parental rights.
Carrington told the Rockland County Times that she and her lawyers from Child Justice, a childrens’ rights family activist group, are hopeful that Maryland will re-assert jurisdiction, recognizing that the Maryland Custody Order has never been registered or modified in any other state, and at a minimum restore her shared physical custody the New York Court denied her of.
Around New Year 2016, McNelis complained of negative media publicity surrounding the case in Rockland County and abruptly moved with the children from New York to Florida, despite not having permission from any court to do so and withheld his whereabouts from Carrington. When the Rockland County Times began covering the story in 2015, McNelis expressed discomfort with the attention and even threatened staff members of the newspaper. In January 2016 McNelis admitted to the Rockland Family Court that he had indeed moved to a full-time address in Florida, while also maintaining a Nyack address on paper.
This was a fateful admission as Rockland Family Court Referee Dean Mendelson immediately ruled New York no longer had jurisdiction (Carrington alleged NY never acquired it in the first place) as neither party resided in the state. Carrington then sought relief in her home state. After the proceedings commenced McNelis finally revealed his new residence as he sought to obtain jurisdiction of the case in Florida. As a result, the Florida Court has deferred to the Maryland Court. McNelis made three attempts to have the Maryland Court dismiss the matter and was unsuccessful.
Hearings on the custody case were heard in Maryland on Friday, May 5. Carrington told the Rockland County Times that she feels the hearing, which lasted until 9 p.m., went well. She finally had due process, something the New York Court refused. A ruling is expected in the coming days.
It was in Maryland that Rockland native McNelis and Carrington married and began raising their two daughters before their marriage fell apart amidst accusations of domestic violence. Carrington was granted an Absolute Divorce from McNelis in 2007. At the time of the filing of divorce, McNelis promised Carrington that he would bankrupt her, take her daughters from her and kill her. The Maryland Court had issued two final protective orders by clear and convincing evidence that McNelis engaged in domestic Violence against Carrington and he was court ordered to vacate the marital home.
In 2010, McNelis moved with his daughters to his native Rockland County. Over the objections of Carrington, New York accepted defacto jurisdiction over the custody via ongoing emergency restraining orders aimed at Carrington. The end result is that a mother, judged by one of the country’s leading psychiatrists to be of sound mind and body, has not seen her children in over half a decade.
That may change soon. Stay tuned.