So you believe in ghosts. Judging by the recent success and popularity of television shows such as TAPS, Ghost Adventures, The Dead Files, Ghostly Encounters and The Haunted Collector, you probably are not alone. So it is not all that surprising that a parent’s interest in ghosts and the paranormal has come up as an issue in a custody case.
In the August 2012 decision in the matter of Sano v. Sano, 2012 NY Slip Op 06018, the Second Department of the Appellate Division reversed the Nassau County Family Court and reinstated the parties’ original custody Order. The Appellate Division found that the father had not proven a sufficient change of circumstances to make a modification of custody in the child’s best interests. Among the father’s allegations was the mother’s interest in spiritual and paranormal phenomena. The Family Court had modified custody based upon this allegation and upon one instance when the child was injured while with the mother, presumably unrelated to the paranormal.
The Appellate Division seemed unfazed by the mother’s interest in spiritual and paranormal phenomena, although the decision does not elaborate on particulars of this “interest” or how may have involved the child.
This is the first custody case I have heard of where a party’s interest in the paranormal was an issue. However, although the situation seems unusual, it really is not surprising that the Appellate Division did not criticize the mother’s beliefs. Courts are very reluctant to go anywhere near religion and will not pass judgment on a party’s religious beliefs. This is true with mainstream religions or even something more exotic, like belief is spirits haunting the living. Some very fundamental rights keep this area off limits for the most part.
As I once pointed out to a Jewish attorney with whom this Catholic was trying a custody case between two Jehovah’s Witnesses before a Protestant judge, this is among the many things that makes America great and keeps Family Court practice interesting.