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.

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.

The Children’s Rights Council – Children’s Bill of Rights

Children's Bill of Rights pic
Children’s Bill of Rights
Image: crckids.org

Attorney Marc Rovner provides general legal counsel to BETA Abstract, an insurance company near his home in East Rockaway, New York. Alongside his work as an attorney, Marc Rovner supports an array of charitable organizations in his community. He is an active volunteer with the Children’s Rights Council (CRC).

The CRC, founded in 1985, promotes the rights and best interests of children in times of marital or domestic conflict. The organization believes that having both parents actively involved in their children’s lives is in the best interests of most families. Accordingly, the council works to strengthen families and support joint custody arrangements.

The CRC created the Children’s Bill of Rights to protect children during divorce and custody battles. The document lists small courtesies that a child should be given during and after custody proceedings, such as being treated like a person rather than property. The Children’s Bill of Rights asks parents to put their children’s feelings before their legal battles and avoid using children as spies, couriers, or leverage.