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What Does Best Interests of the Child Mean in Child Custody Cases?

January 2, 2018

As a parent, you may be approaching the prospect of divorce with considerable trepidation. Part of that likely stems from the fact that you are uncertain about how a New York Family Court addresses issues relating to child custody and visitation or parenting time.

At the heart of child custody determinations in the state of New York is the application of what is known as the best interests of a child standard. The starting point for you to better understand how a court addresses custody issues in New York is to have a general appreciating of this standard.

Overview of the Best Interests of a Child Standard in New York Family Court

New York, as is the case across the United States, applies what is known as the best interests of a child standard when making determination regarding child custody and visitation or parenting time. In other words, a custodial arrangement agreed to or ordered in a divorce, or paternity, proceeding must be in the best interests of a child.

In ascertaining what is in the best interests of a child, the court takes a case-by-case approach. The court considers the unique facts of a case and the specific circumstances of the parents and child in making a custody decision.

Factors Considered by the Court in Determining the Best Interest of a Child

A court typically is called upon to consider an array of factors when making a custody decision. These include the current living situation of the parents as well as which parent in the past has provided primary care for a child.

A court will also consider the general physical, emotional, and mental health of the parents and child. If the child has unique or special needs, the court will consider which parent may be best equipped to address them on a regular basis.

The age of the child may come into play in a court’s decision making. In this regard, the court may entertain a child’s preference when it comes to custody. Keep in mind, however, that just because a child wants a particular custodial arrangement does not mean that such an arrangement will be deemed in that child’s best interests by the court.

Child Custody Agreements and the Best Interest of a Child Standard

New York Family Courts encourage parents to attempt to reach agreement in regard to a multitude of issues commonly faced in divorce proceedings. This includes attempting to negotiate a child custody agreement that is fair to both spouses, but above all is in the best interests of a child.

Keep in mind that even if you and your spouse reach an agreement regarding child custody and visitation, the court will review it. The court needs to make certain that the arrangement you come up with is indeed in the best interests of your child.

Modifying of Changing Custody and a Child’s Best Interests

There may come a time when you think that a child custody arrangement must be changed or modified. In some cases, parents are able to negotiate a needed change to a custodial arrangement.

When the parties are able to agree to a change of custody, their agreement is presented to the court. The court reviews the proposed custodial arrangement to ensure that it satisfies the best interests of the child.

Oftentimes, when changing child custody is an issue, the parents are not in agreement. In such a situation, one parent files a motion to change custody and the other parent challenges it. The court will conduct a hearing, and take evidence presented by both parents. The court will apply the best interests of the child standard in this situation as well.

In addition to the application of the best interests of the child standard, New York law favors stability when it comes to child custody. Thus, the parent seeking to alter the custodial arrangement is going to have to demonstrate that there exists a material change of circumstances that renders the exiting order no longer in the best interests of the child.

Seeking Legal Counsel in a Child Custody Case

Due to the complexities of child custody matters in New York Family Court, you likely best protect your vital legal interests by seeking legal counsel. The first step to seeking assistance is arranging for what is known as an initial consultation.

During a preliminary appointment with an experienced New York divorce attorney you will obtain an evaluation of your case. Although an attorney cannot make any promises about will and will not happen in your case, legal counsel can provide you some general ideas about what to expect. You will also have the opportunity to raise any questions you might have about your situation. As a general rule, a New York divorce attorney does not charge a fee for an initial appointment with a potential client in a child custody or divorce matter.

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