During divorce proceedings, New York State courts decide child custody arrangements based on the “best interest of the child” standard. This considers several non-weighted factors that can impact a child’s development and sense of security. Custody includes making health and education decisions for the child. If joint custody is awarded, both parents will share their caretaking responsibilities and decision-making authority evenly.
In some cases, one parent may be provided with more responsibility than the other. In these cases, the best interest standard informs decisions regarding which parent is assigned as the child’s primary caretaker and how visitations are scheduled or outlined. An overarching factor that impacts all the other decisions involves maintaining stability in the child's life.
If one parent has assumed most of the child-rearing responsibilities, this will be considered by the judge when deciding. The court understands that changes brought on by divorce can have a significant impact on a child’s emotional development and well-being. For this reason, judges are more likely to decide arrangements that will minimally disrupt the child’s daily life. For example, if one parent relocates after the divorce, this may affect their ability to be awarded sole custody, as the child must be uprooted to uphold this arrangement.
However, if the parents themselves have agreed to a custody arrangement, or the child is old enough to state their preferred living situation, this can also affect the final decision. Other factors may indicate that one parent is better suited than the other. If a parent has difficulty maintaining a safe and healthy home environment, or is managing an illness or mental health issue, it may be considered in the child’s best interest to stay with the more stable parent.
On the other hand, financial distress and illness alone are not sufficient grounds to deny a parent access to their child. The court does not look well at parents who interfere with visitation schedules, as this can disrupt the child’s ability to bond with the other parent. In cases where there is a documented history of abuse, either against the child or the spouse, the parent who committed the offense will be much less likely to be awarded custody. If a parent is accused of abuse during the proceedings, the court will investigate these claims. If they are discovered to be unfounded, it can hurt the accusing party’s case, as this can be interpreted as interfering with a parent’s ability to maintain a relationship with their child.
Circumstances surrounding the children themselves are also considered. The court may examine both parents’ living arrangements to determine which situation would be best for the child. If one parent lives in a district with a superior school system, this may be a significant factor.
On the other hand, if the child has a cognitive or physical disability, the judge may award primary custody to the parent who is best able to accommodate the child’s additional needs. If either party has other children who are not directly involved in the case but are the half or full siblings of the child whose custody is in question, this can also be a deciding factor. Judges prefer to place children with their siblings, as this can provide a sense of stability.