Could Bethenny Frankel Lose Custody Because Her Boyfriend Overdosed? Experts Weigh In
Amid their protracted custody battle, Bethenny Frankel‘s ex-husband Jason Hoppy has expressed concern about the reported cause of death of the Real Housewives of New York City star’s on-off boyfriend Dennis Shields — but will it influence the judge’s decision?
At a previously scheduled hearing on Thursday, Hoppy’s attorney Robert Wallack referenced reports that the New York banker — who was found dead in his Trump Tower apartment last week at the age of 51 — died of an apparent overdose.
“Dennis Shields spent a great deal of time with Bryn and even cared for Bryn at times when Ms. Frankel wasn’t around. Considering Mr. Shields’ addiction, what does that say about Ms. Frankel’s parenting that she would allow this person to care for her daughter?” Wallack said, according to Page Six. “This doesn’t just constitute a lapse in judgment, this was just downright dangerous parenting.”
While Frankel is asking for primary custody and full decision-making power over 8-year-old daughter Bryn, Hoppy has expressed his desire to keep the current joint custody arrangement the same.
Amanda L.F. Harris, a lawyer at Eiges & Orgel Divorce and Family Law tells PEOPLE that because Shields wasn’t living with Frankel and her daughter before his death and because he allegedly “overdosed on prescription medication for back pain, Jason would have to demonstrate that Bethenny knowingly exposed her daughter to someone who was actively using a substance prescribed or otherwise illegally [acquired] essentially.”
She went on to explain that Hoppy would have to prove, “1. That the child had been exposed. 2. That the boyfriend was using drugs in the presence of the child. [and] 3. That the child’s safety at any point was an issue.”
“If Jason was able to show any of that with Dennis Shields it could potentially impact custody, but it’s a lot to show,” she adds.
However, Kenneth Eiges, an attorney specializing in family law, says that Shield’s interaction with the 8-year-old girl is something “a judge would not look very kindly on.”
“I would just say that it’s a factor that the court would have to consider,” he continues, adding that the decision would also be affected by the level of Shield’s involvement in the child’s life.
“Was he babysitting? Were all three of them together? When did he take the drugs? It’s really an issue that will affect it and any lawyer who is involved in the case the first thing they would say is, ‘hey, she’s bringing a drug addict into the life of the child,’ whether it’s true or not I don’t know,” he remarks.
“But that would be the first thing someone would set the tone of the hearing with,” he adds. “It’s a factor and would not be looked at kindly.”
Page Six previously reported that the judge was “skeptical” of Hoppy’s argument, given that he had already expressed his desire to continue sharing custody. He said Hoppy was “throwing grenades” in the proceedings and set a March court date for Frankel’s requests.
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Frankel and Hoppy, both 47, have been fighting over custody of Bryn for years. After a whirlwind romance, the Skinnygirl mogul learned she was pregnant, and they got married in a lavish televised wedding in 2010, welcoming their baby girl shortly after. Then, things turned ugly. They separated in December 2012, and their protracted divorce was finalized in July 2016, though they’ve been stuck in messy court proceedings; she accused him of stalking and harassing her just last year.
Though they met almost 30 years ago, Frankel and Shields began dating on and off in 2016 — and as PEOPLE exclusively reported, Shields even proposed to her in April.
After losing him, Frankel is “devastated,” a friend told PEOPLE, explaining that she leaned on him throughout her seemingly never-ending divorce.
“She loved him. He was her family and Bryn’s family. Bryn loved him. Dennis was Bethenny’s partner, her family, her business partner and her best friend,” the friend said.
A source also told PEOPLE that Frankel “would have loved to have married him, but there were some hurdles to overcome first.”