I-Team 10 Investigation: Two state custody battle

Posted at: 11/18/2013 5:05 PM
Updated at: 11/18/2013 5:43 PM
By: Brett Davidsen

A two state custody battle leaves a little girl, who is originally from Rochester, caught in the middle. 

A Monroe County Family Court judge has threatened to have the child's adopted parents arrested for failing to appear in court and for failing to let the girl's grandmother have regular visitation. The case was in front of a judge Monday.  The two sides were ordered to be there. Only side showed up. The girl's adopted parents say they have no intention of coming back to New York to argue over a custody issue they believe no longer exists. 

Eight-year-old Sandra Feldman was born in Rochester, but for the past two years, she's been living near Atlanta, Georgia, with her aunt and uncle, Michael and Lucille Feldman.

Michael Feldman said, "She has a sense of permanency now. She knows this is her permanent home and she's doing very, very well."

But the Feldmans say it wasn't always that way. Sandra's father died in 2008 and her mother had relinquished custody. Sandra had been bouncing back and forth between the Feldmans on her mother's side and her grandmother, Zoradia Rodriguez, on her father's side. Last year, a family court judge granted the Feldmans primary physical care of Sandra and ordered regular visitation for Rodriguez in Rochester. 

But then, the girl's mother died, setting off a chain of events that has thrust Sandra into the middle of a two state legal battle.

Feldman said, “She had no living parents and nobody acting in the role of parent, just acting in the role of custodians, that freed her for adoption.”

So earlier this year, the Feldmans legally adopted Sandra in Georgia. As a result, they say they're no longer obligated to follow the New York judge's order to send Sandra to Rochester for visits with her grandmother.

Feldman said, "Now we are her parents and there is no more need for any type of custody arrangement. Custody doesn't exist. It's a moot issue.”

Not to Monroe County Family Court Judge Dandrea Ruhlmann. She ordered the Feldmans to appear in her courtroom Monday for a hearing on the visitation matter, and threatened to issue an arrest warrant if they didn't show, which they didn't. In their absence, the judge ruled they had willfully violated the visitation order.


Feldman said, "We feel this has been an abuse of the judge's position of authority."

William King, Rodriguez's attorney, said, "According to New York, New York always retained exclusive jurisdiction over visitation issues and that has always been an issue here. So that has not changed at all.

King says the Feldmans hurried adoption was an underhanded attempt to keep his client from seeing her own granddaughter.


King said, "The middle ground is if everybody just does what they're supposed to do."  

The judge reserved decision on what punishment she would impose on the Feldmans for failing to adhere to her visitation order. The Feldmans say they are willing to let Rodriguez come stay at their home in Georgia for regular visits, something rejected by Rodriguez and the court.