Child Custody: How do Courts Determine “Best Interests of the Child”?

New York Courts – Best Interest of the Child

When determining child custody in divorce cases, New York courts either order joint custody arrangements, meaning both parents share legal and physical custody of the child, or grant sole custody to one parent, based on what they deem as in the “best interests of the child.” A common question divorcing parents have is how courts determine what the best interest of their child is? In New York, courts take each of the following into consideration when discerning what the best custody arrangement is for a child:

  1. Depending on the age of the child, the court will consider which parent he or she prefers to reside with. The older the child is, the more seriously their opinion will be taken, but their desires will be looked at any age.
  2. The court will examine the stability of the parent. It will take into account whether either parent has any history of mental illness, drug or substance abuse, criminal activity or domestic violence.
  3. The court also aims to keep the child in a stable environment. This means that the court prefers a custody arrangement in which the child can continue living in the same area and attend the same school. Thus, they would look more favorably upon a parent who remains in the same environment than on one who relocates after the divorce.
  4. To further maintain stability for the child, the court considers what the child’s living arrangement is in the status quo. If the child is used to a certain pattern of switching between parents or residing with one, the court will aim to maintain that pattern so they do not disrupt a routine the child has grown accustomed to.
  5. The court generally aims to keep siblings together if possible.
  6. Additionally, the court considers the wealth of the parent, including the quality of the house the child would live in, the neighborhood, access to health care, etc.

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