The Child’s Best Interest under New York Law

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.

The Children’s Rights Council Mediation Program

CRC logo

An award-winning attorney, Marc Rovner of East Rockaway, New York, serves as director of business development and general counsel at BETA Abstract LLC. Outside of supervising the firm’s legal department, attorney Marc Rovner supports a number of charities, including the Children’s Rights Council.

Incorporated in 1985, the Children’s Rights Council works to ensure that children enjoy meaningful relationships with their parents, no matter their parents’ marital status. In addition to facilitating positive interactions between children and their parents, the organization advocates for custody reform and administers a mediation program.

CRC’s mediation program can be either a court-ordered or a voluntary process, initiated by one or both parents and guided by a neutral third party. The mediator oversees the discussion and negotiation process to provide clarity and reach a consensus that is beneficial for the child or children involved. Although not involved in decision making, the mediator can suggest solutions and help both parties ease their concerns.

Following mediation, the mediator also helps both parties in finalizing the written agreement.

How Divorce Impacts Children

East Rockaway, New York-based attorney Marc Rovner has led the multistage legal department for Beta Abstract LLC, a title insurance company, for more than almost two decades. In addition to his work as an attorney, Marc Rovner supports several child welfare charities, including the Children’s Rights Council. The organization provides resources to help families minimize parental conflict during divorce.

Divorce is always difficult for children. When parents separate, much of their children’s daily lives and routines are disrupted. The children may have to change schools, move, or travel between two houses. Some children may feel responsible for the divorce, while others feel angry and resentful.

Divorce can weaken the bond between the child and the noncustodial parent. All of these changes can manifest as poor academic performance, risk-taking behaviors, and mental health issues. Parents who separate peacefully and continue to cooperate in their parental obligations can reduce the stressors felt by their children. If necessary, parents should work with a therapist or social work to support their children.