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How do New York courts make child custody decisions, and how can an attorney help? P.1

One of the most important concerns for any couple pursuing marital dissolution is how the divorce will affect their relationship with their children. Parents entering into the child custody process often have concerns that they will lose the connection they have with their children, and want to know how an experienced attorney can help.

First of all, the central consideration for a court responsible for making child custody determinations is the "best interest" of the child. The term refers to the various factors which affect the well-being of the child. Courts are not bound by a specific formula when considering these factors and enjoy significant discretion in making custody decisions, though the health and safety of the child is considered the most important factor. 

Any factor which is relevant to the best interests of the child may be considered by the court in determining custody, including:

  • The mental and physical health of the parents
  • Each parent's ability to provide for the needs of the child
  • Each parent's ability to cooperate with the other and encourage an ongoing relationship with the other parent
  • The child's relationships with siblings and extended family
  • The reasonable preferences of the child
  • Whether there is any history of abuse, neglect or violence

For parents, it is important to understand that a child custody determination is not primarily about them and their interests, but really about the child. This will be the court's focus. On the other hand, it is still important for a parent to work with an experienced advocate in the process. We'll look at why in our next post. 

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