Child Custody

How Does A New York Court Determine The Best Interests Of A Child For Custody?

Last updated on September 18, 2023

Child custody disputes can be emotionally charged and complex, requiring careful consideration of the child’s best interests. In the state of New York, determining child custody involves a meticulous evaluation by the court, prioritizing the well-being and welfare of the child above all else. The court system employs a set of factors and guidelines to make decisions that promote the child’s overall welfare and stability. Understanding how the New York courts assess the best interests of a child is crucial for parents navigating custody battles, as it can significantly impact the outcome of their case and the future of their child.

A skilled Manhattan child custody attorney specializing in family law can navigate the intricate legal landscape and ensure that your child’s best interests are effectively represented in court. An experienced attorney can help you gather relevant evidence, prepare persuasive arguments, and advocate for your parental rights. At New York Family Law Group, our team of Manhattan child custody lawyers may be able to help you navigate the complexities of the legal process, increasing the likelihood of a favorable outcome that prioritizes the well-being of your child. Call us today at (347) 212-5113 to schedule a consultation.

1. Parental Stability

In a custody dispute, priority is often awarded to the parent who first gets custody, either as ordered by the court or as part of a voluntary agreement.

For example, if your spouse leaves you for two months and you raise the child without their presence in your home, the court will take this into account when considering custody and are likely to award custody to you, rather than changing it to the other parent. 

2. Child Care Arrangements

If one parent is more able to provide necessary childcare, such as daycare, babysitters, or at-home childcare, this will be taken into account when determining custody. 

3. Primary Caretaker Standard

In child custody cases in New York, whether in Family Courts or the Supreme Court, there is often a preference given to a parent who can officially demonstrate that they were the child’s primary caregiver during the marriage or assumed that role if the parents were unmarried. It’s important to note that custody cases can arise even between individuals who were in a relationship but never married, or they may deal with custody without immediately pursuing a divorce.

The significance of the primary caregiver in New York family law has evolved over time. Psychologists have highlighted the importance of the bond between a child and their primary caregiver, leading to its recognition as a critical factor in determining the child’s best interests in court. The emotional connection between a child and their primary caregiver is viewed as instrumental in promoting the child’s successful development from childhood to adulthood. As a result, many psychologists strongly advocate for courts to consider the presence of the primary caregiver-child relationship when assessing the child’s future psychological well-being and growth.

Although not an exhaustive list, some examples of responsibilities that can establish primary caregiver status include tasks such as bathing, dressing, and other grooming activities, buying groceries and preparing meals, purchasing clothing, assisting with homework, actively participating in the child’s education, and providing care when the child is ill.

Interestingly, being designated as a primary caregiver is not limited to caring for children. In certain cases, primary caregivers can also be individuals who provide care for the elderly who are unable to support themselves financially, physically, or emotionally.

4. Misuse Of Drugs And Alcohol

Any kind of substance abuse issue will dramatically affect custody arrangements. Courts will always prefer to place children in homes where there are no unhealthy or illicit activities that may affect their health, happiness, and level of care.

5. Mental Health And Overall Stability

Emotional instability, mood disorders, and untreated mental illnesses may affect the awarding of custody. Parents suffering from these issues are less likely to get custody. 

6. Physical Health Of The Parents

If one parent is severely disabled or ill and cannot properly care for a child, this will be factored into the custody arrangement.

7. Spousal Abuse Or Child Abuse

Evidence of spousal abuse or child abuse, neglect, and/or abandonment will reflect very poorly on the responsible party. In addition to potentially facing criminal charges, they are very unlikely to get custody. 

8. Finances Of Each Parent

For example, if one parent is unemployed and does not have the financial means to provide stable housing, and the other parent is stable and has adequate housing, the latter parent is more likely to get custody. 

Child custody lawyer in Manhattan

9. Where The Child’s Siblings Live

Courts always try to keep children together, so if one or more children are already living with one parent, the court is more likely to award custody to this parent. 

10. Safety And Conditions Of The Home Environment 

The court will not place a child in an unsafe or dangerous home environment. Dangerous items in the home, overall quality of living conditions, violent partners or friends, and other such conditions will be taken into account when determining custody.

Factors for Determining Child Custody Description
Parental Stability Consideration of who had custody first and continuity of care
Child Care Arrangements Ability to provide necessary childcare arrangements
Primary Caretaker Identification of the primary caretaker for the child
Misuse of Drugs and Alcohol Impact of substance abuse on the child’s well-being
Mental Health and Overall Stability Consideration of emotional stability and untreated mental illnesses
Physical Health of the Parents Evaluation of the parents’ physical health and ability to care for the child
Spousal Abuse or Child Abuse Presence of evidence of abuse, neglect, or abandonment
Finances of Each Parent Assessment of financial stability and ability to provide for the child
Where the Child’s Siblings Live Preference to keep siblings together
Safety and Conditions of the Home Environment Consideration of the safety and suitability of the home environment

Pursuing NY Child Custody

There is no “magic number” at which a child can express his or her preferences. A court will still consider the wishes and preferences of 12-year-olds more than those of 8-year-olds. A court must also consider the “totality of the circumstances”. 

One factor doesn’t always determine the child’s best interest or custody in New York. A court may not disturb the status quo if the child is happy and has lived with the same parent for a long period of time. These are the main factors to consider when examining the NY child custody laws. If you see many that point towards the other parent, it may be worth considering settling your case instead of litigating it in court.

New York has custody agreements. Some New York courts refer to them as parenting plans. You can settle your case by settling child custody or the entire case. This could include visitation and child support.

Modifications to Custody

When determining custody modification, courts will apply a two-prong test. The party who is seeking modification must first prove that there has been a change in their circumstances since the previous order. Then, it must be proved that the modification of the order is in the child’s best interests. A petition is not sufficient to grant a hearing. You must show evidence that the child needs one.

How Do the Courts Determine an Unfit Parent?

Every child deserves a home that is safe and stable. If a parent is unfit to take care of their child, it means that the child’s best interests are not being served. This can be detrimental to the child’s well-being. The following are some behaviors that the court will consider when deciding whether a parent is unfit to take care of their child:

  • Alcohol abuse or drug use
  • Neglect
  • Incarceration
  • Poor judgment

When deciding on custody issues for children, the courts always take into account the “best interest of the child” standard. A judge will consider many factors including the financial status of each parent and keeping siblings together. The court will also consider who was the primary caretaker of the child and search for evidence of serious issues, such as domestic violence or substance abuse.

If you’re divorcing or have an order for custody, or are filing a petition to get custody and parenting time, and are concerned about your children’s welfare during the time they will spend with your ex-spouse, the first thing to do is to find evidence to prove your spouse or ex-spouse to be an unfit parent. A well-documented history of abuse could include:

  • Any treatment your child received for injuries may have been related to neglect or abuse
  • Photos, videos, and audio evidence of abuse or neglect
  • Concerning emails, text messages, or voicemails

If you believe that your ex-spouse is unfit to care for your child, it is important to seek the help of an experienced child custody lawyer right away. Having a skilled child custody attorney may be able to help you gather evidence and represent your and your child’s best interests.

Our New York Child Custody Attorneys Are Here To Help You In New York

Whether you’re just beginning divorce proceedings, or you already have a child custody order in place and are seeking a modification to the order, New York Family Law Group is here to help. Contact us online or give us a call at (347) 212-5113   to speak with an experienced child custody lawyer today, explain your situation, and see how we can help.



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