Determining a Child’s Best Interests in New York Custody Cases

Generally, child custody decisions and parenting time arrangements (visitation) can vary dramatically from one circumstance to the next. When the parties are unable to reach a settlement, it is necessary for the court to make a determination. In all cases, these decisions come down to the best interests of the child. The application of this legal standard can be complicated and may frustrate parents, who will likely disagree on what constitutes a child's best interests. Throughout New York State, family courts typically take the following factors into account:

  1. Parenting Ability

Though New York courts generally maintain that it is in the best interest of most children to enjoy strong relationships with both parents, discrepancies can arise when parenting ability comes into play. Family Courts sometimes examine evidence indicating that one parent is more responsible or reliable than the other. For example, a history of criminal activity or drug abuse could impede a parent's ability to secure custody or even parenting time. Domestic abuse, in particular, warrants concern.

  1. Stability

Even in the best circumstances, the separation of parents creates significant upheaval. This can cause huge problems for the families as children tend to function best when exposed to stable environments. For this reason, courts favor arrangements that allow children to maintain as much stability as possible. This could mean living near siblings or grandparents, attending the same school, or otherwise continuing habits and traditions that previously enriched the child's life.

  1. The Child's Preferences

Depending on their age, children or teens impacted by child custody determinations may be granted some say in those arrangements. A strongly expressed and reasonable preference for living with one parent or another could have a huge impact on the ultimate outcome.

Stephen J. Riebling, Jr. and Marcia Payton are family law attorneys at Riebling & Payton, PLLC, located in Westchester County, NY, handling all types of Child Custody and Visitation cases in NY Family Courts. To learn more about them, the firm and their approach please visit Riebling & Payton, PLLC at

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