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Newsweek Quotes Matheu D. Nunn on Custody Issues in “What Should I Do” Column

July 12, 2023

Matheu D. Nunn, Partner and Co-Chair of the firm’s Family/Matrimonial Practice Group, was quoted in a Newsweek article about child custody in the outlet’s “What Should I Do” column, which answers readers’ questions and provides advice on relationships, family, friends, money and work.

I Want Custody of My Niece – What Should I Do” raised a couple’s question about custody of their niece, who has been left with them for a year by their mother. They were concerned with the mother’s behavior and ability to provide a stable home, citing potential drug use and erratic behavior.

Nunn, who represents individuals from all fields – athletes, business owners, entertainers, executives, financial advisors, lawyers, physicians, police officers, and teachers – in family law disputes, provided the following response:

This sounds like a terrible situation for everyone involved. Like many family law issues, it combines the law with emotionally fueled decisions—in this case about a child’s best interests.

The first question that needs to be answered is whether you seek permanent legal and physical custody (i.e., whether you seek to replace the parent), or whether you want temporary custody. It seems as though you, for the time being, want temporary legal and physical custody rights, so that you can make decisions for your niece and have certainty that her mother’s whims will not detrimentally impact your niece (or you).

As a starting point, there is an avenue in every state to pursue the relief you seek. In most states, you would file an application or verified complaint in the court system’s family part or family court. The application will require the presentation of facts (and law) as to why the child’s best interests—the legal standard in every state for custody determinations—would be served by the child remaining in your temporary custody.

In your case, this could also result in court-mandated substance abuse evaluations and risk assessments of the child’s mother. If, however, you seek a more permanent custody, you would likely have to petition for adoption. Although the standard in an adoption case is ultimately best interests, an adoption requires the termination of the parental rights of your wife’s sister.

This complicates the process because it implicates the fundamental constitutional right of parents to raise their children. In turn, there is a heightened standard to terminate the parent’s rights. Regardless of which route you choose, these are complicated legal issues that would be best served with legal representation.

For questions about complex custody arrangements, as well as any other family and matrimonial law issues, please contact Matheu Nunn.

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