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How New York judges determine what's in a child's best interest

If you and your co-parent aren't able to reach an agreement on child custody and visitation during your divorce or you're seeking a change to your current agreement, you'll need to take the matter before a family court judge to decide. As in many states, the primary concern of judges here in New York is the "best interest" of the child.

Of course, all parents think they have their children's best interests at heart. However, if the decision is placed in a judge's hands, he or she has a good deal of leeway in determining what's in the child's best interests. State law mandates only that the "child's health and safety shall be the paramount concerns" for judges.

Judges will look at a number of factors involving each of the parents, both in the past and looking ahead. For example, the judge will consider:

  • Each parent's physical and mental health
  • Their parenting skills
  • The ability to deal with and accommodate any special needs a child may have
  • Who the child's primary caretaker has been in the past and currently
  • What each parent's work schedule is and what their plans are for child care when they are working
  • How each parent communicates and cooperates with the other one about the child
  • Any history of domestic violence, substance abuse or any other behavior that could be physically or mentally harmful to the child

Judges will also look at the overall family situation. For example, are there siblings or other family members that the child is close to? How will the custody decision impact the child's ability to continue those close relationships?

Depending on children's age and maturity, judges may ask them for their thoughts and preference. Getting feedback from a child who is old enough to provide it can be helpful.

If a judge is deciding custody and visitation for your child, it's essential to present your case as effectively as possible. Your New York family law attorney can help you do that.

Source: New York State Unified Court System, "Best Interest of the Child," accessed April 06, 2018

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