How to New York courts determine child custody?

Divorce can be difficult, especially when children are involved and custody is at issue, causing emotions and stress levels to rise. Naturally, parents want the best for their child and often each parent believes that the best place for their child is with them and not the soon to be ex-spouse. This causes tension between the divorcing couple, and can foster an environment that feels like a battleground. Consequently, one of the biggest questions that often causes the most anxiety for parents is, how will custody be determined?

What are the best interests of the child?

In New York, courts decide custody matters based on the best interests of the child. This happens when parents are not able to reach a custody agreement on their own. The goal of the court is to create a custody arrangement that foster’s the child’s health, happiness and general well-being while keeping a close and loving relationship with both parents. In order to do this, a number of factors may be considered, such as:

  • The age, gender and health of the child (including any special needs)
  • The health of both parents (physical and mental)
  • The relationship or bond between each parent and the child
  • The child’s current living situation, including school, home, community involvement and participation in a religious institution
  • The child’s wishes (depending on the age of the child)
  • The child’s relationship with extended family, like grandparents
  • The parent’s ability to provide for the child’s basic needs
  • The parent’s lifestyle, including any drug or alcohol abuse or physical or emotional abuse
  • The child’s ability to adjust to a new community or school

The court may consider other factors as well based on the circumstances, such as any evidence of domestic violence in the home. Ultimately, it will be in the child’s best interests to live with the parent who can give a stable environment and foster a good relationship with the other parent. In many cases, both parents will be determined fit caregivers for their child and a joint custody arrangement is common.

Types of custody arrangements

There are two types of custody in New York, legal and physical. Legal custody refers to the right to make important decisions about the child’s life. This would include decisions about medical care, education and a religious upbringing. Physical custody refers to where the child resides.

Either type of custody can be joint (shared between the parents) or sole (one parent is the sole decision maker or the primary parent with which the child resides). Absent finding one parent unfit, many custody arrangements are joint physical and joint legal. However, custody may not necessarily be split between the parents 50/50.

Helping to protect your child’s interests

A custody disagreement can be taxing on the relationship between parents and on the child. When emotions are high, it can be difficult to protect your child from feeling the tension and anxiety of the situation. At Most & Schneid, P.C., we can help you navigate your divorce and reach a custody agreement while keeping your child’s best interests at the forefront.

If you are contemplating divorce and have questions about how child custody or visitation may be determined, call us and speak to an experienced family law attorney. We can evaluate your situation, answer your questions and help you determine the best path for resolution of your custody dispute.