Bethenny Frankel’s divorce has dominated Page Six and the tabloids
since she first announced her separation from her ex Jason Hoppy in 2012.
Though their divorce was finalized two years ago, Frankel and Hoppy continue
to fight for custody of their eight-year-old daughter, Bryn. Recent headlines
have involved Frankel posting pictures of herself wearing her daughter’s
pajamas on social media and the overdose of Frankel’s boyfriend, Dennis
Shields. Hoppy has weaponized these incidents as a bid to have sole legal
and physical custody of Bryn. Frankel uses the couple’s history of
domestic violence to paint Hoppy as an unfit parent. The big question
in front of the Court right now is Shields’ overdose. Are accusations
of addiction of a third party enough to award custody to one parent?
The standard for custody in New York is best interests of the child. The
Courts consider multiple factors such as parental stability, who was the
primary caregiver, mental and physical health of the parents, abuse/neglect
of either parent or the child(ren), preferences of the child (put forth
by their own attorney appointed by the court), and drugs and alcohol,
amongst other factors. Once custody is determined, the threshold changes
to a substantial change in circumstances prior to determining what is
in the child’s best interests. As Frankel and Hoppy settled custody
as part of their divorce (NY requires all issues to be resolved prior
to a judgment of divorce), Hoppy would have to demonstrate how Shields’
death is a substantial change in circumstances warranting a change in custody.
Hoppy has an uphill battle because he has the burden to prove. This is
not insurmountable however, as the courts do not take drug abuse lightly.
The safety and wellbeing of a child is the paramount concern for judges.
Hoppy would have to show some combination of the following:
- Shields was an addict;
- Frankel knew that Shields was an addict;
Shields was using/under the influence of drugs
in the presence of Bryn;
- Shields was left alone to care for Bryn;
- Frankel brought Bryn around Shields despite knowing his addition history; and
- Hoppy was not aware of Shields’ addiction history.
Hoppy’s next step would be to link these factors to poor judgment
and Frankel’s inability to properly care for Bryn. If Hoppy were
my client, I would link Shields to other injurious choices made by Frankel;
Frankel’s behavior on reality television, which some may view as
erratic and aggressive, and Frankel’s relationships with other addicts
and alcoholics, such as spending time with Luann de Lesseps who recently
was in rehab for alcohol addiction following an attack on a police officer and DUI.
Conversely if I were representing Frankel, I would explain to the court
that the company my client keeps does not through osmosis make Frankel
a bad parent. I would explain that Frankel was not present during the
overdose, that she did not leave Bryn alone with Shields and that Bryn
was always well cared for, how social media and reality television is
my client’s job and provides significant amounts of money for Bryn,
that during Frankel’s parenting time the cameras are turned off,
and that there is no immediacy of harm to my child. The court would consider
the evidence and testimony submitted by both parties, as well has give
credence to Bryn’s attorney’s position.
Ultimately, it is unclear how the court will rule at this time. There are
facts that only the parties and their attorneys know, which the media
has not reported. The totality of the circumstances and not any one incident
may make the difference between custody and visitation. However, to any
client I would caution their involvement with a known addict. Once the
court or ACS is involved with your marriage or family, everything is under
a microscope. You only want to be seen in a favorable light.