Child Custody

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

Last updated on January 16, 2023

The primary factor in determining which parent will get physical and/or legal custody of a child in New York is the “best interest” of the child. In other words, the courts must balance the ability of each parent to meet the needs of the child – and create the custody agreement accordingly.

But what does that mean, and which factors are evaluated when determining the best interests of the child? In this blog from New York Family Law Group, we’ll look at a few common things that are taken into account by the court. Before you make any decisions, it is important to speak with a seasoned New York family law attorney.

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 day care, babysitters, or at-home childcare, this will be taken into account when determining custody. 

3. Primary Caretaker 

The child’s primary caretaker will be considered during custody. For example, in a relationship where one parent stays at home to care for the child and the other works, the stay-at-home parent is more likely to have a claim for custody. 

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 attorney in New York City

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.

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 (718)-293-1542 to speak with an experienced child custody lawyer today, explain your situation, and see how we can help.



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