There are few things in life that are as important as your relationship with your children. Yet, after a divorce, the nature of that relationship may change; your child custody arrangements will dictate when, how often and under what circumstances you will be able to see and take care of your children.
When making custody arrangements, many divorcing couples are able to come to a negotiated agreement outside the courtroom. For others, a family court judge will set the terms of custody and visitation. Even for those former partners who hope to reach a settlement, the factors that guide a judge's custody decision under New York law are important, as they will inform the custody negotiations and establish strategic leverage when backed with the right evidence.
Relevant evidence speaks to best interests of the child
Custody is the legal term for having the parental right to exercise control in a child's life. Under New York law, there are two types of custody, physical and legal. Physical custody essentially refers to where a child spends most of his or her time - in other words, where the child lives. Legal custody, on the other hand, involves being able to make important life decision on a child's behalf, such as choosing a school for the child, determining what kind of religious instruction the child will receive and deciding which medical procedures the child should undergo.
Generally, a New York court will favor joint custody, in which both physical and legal custody are shared by both parents. However, if there is reason to award sole custody to one parent over the other, the court will do so. When this happens, the other parent will often receive visitation. Visitation is the right to spend time with the child, even though the child generally spends more time with the other parent.
So what will a court look to in setting custody and visitation arrangements? At the most basic level, the focus is always on the best interests of the child. The court will review the evidence it is presented with, and issue a ruling that the judge believes will give the child the best chance to thrive. Some tangible things the court is likely to consider include:
• Who is the child living with presently - and if the child is old enough to express a preference, would he or she prefer for things to stay the same or to move in with the other parent?
• What is the capacity of each parent to provide the child with support, including emotional, intellectual and financial support?
• Is either parent more likely than the other to include his or her former partner in the life of the child and to adhere to the judgment of the court?
• Would living with one parent or the other separate the child from his or her siblings?
• Does either parent have a history of child abuse, domestic violence or substance abuse?
Get help from a family law attorney to build a strong case
In any child custody case, the judge has to issue a decision based on a limited universe of information. Whether your case gets before a judge or you simply need to strengthen your negotiating position, you'll get the best chance at the outcome you want by painting a vivid picture of your aptitude as a parent and rebutting any potentially harmful evidence presented by your ex.
If you're seeking custody or visitation, don't leave things to chance: contact an experienced New York family law attorney today and protect the relationship you have with your children.