Manhattan Child Custody Lawyers

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Issues surrounding child custody in a divorce are often contentious and emotional. A parent can benefit greatly from understanding how child custody laws work and the options they have when trying to secure a favorable child custody agreement. Parents who fully understand the law and take advantage of their rights are more likely to secure an arrangement that allows them to maintain the best relationship with their children after a divorce.

The Best Interests of the Child

The guiding principal in child custody decisions is the best interests of the child. Anytime a judge is required to make a decision about custody, visitation or the child’s welfare, this idea will be at the forefront of their decision making process.

Parents often have questions about the legality surrounding this term. The term is left only broadly defined on purpose, so that it can be applied to any situation involving children. Essentially, whatever decision results in the child’s greatest benefit is considered to be in their best interests. Importantly, the desires, needs and requests of the parents or other family are considered secondary to the child’s needs.

In deciding what is in the best interests of the child, a New York judge is likely to follow a few general guidelines. None of these are absolute, and each child and case is considered individually, but the guidelines serve as a starting point and provide a small amount of predictability for parents.

In general, contact with both parents is considered to be in the child’s best interests unless one parent has been found guilty of abuse or has a lifestyle that would be considered harmful or detrimental to the child. The court will often make every effort to give the child some contact with both parents and any other highly relevant family or caregivers.

The court also aims to create as much stability in the child’s life as possible after the divorce and seek to minimize the overall impact and disruption of the divorce. This usually means that the parent who can show a more stable home environment and provide the child with better access to the social and educational environment they had before may have a more favorable position when arguing custody. For example, a parent who continues to reside in the family home and give the child access to the same school and friends will be viewed more favorably than the parent who has moved to a different town.

There are many factors that come into play when determining what is in the best interests of the child and how each parent is able to provide benefits. Demonstrating this to the court is often an important part of any legal strategy a parent and his or her attorney may use.

Types of Custody

There are two essential types of custody that parents may be awarded: physical custody and legal custody. Physical custody involves the actual care taking of the child and providing them with a residence and daily care and provisions.

Legal custody involves making important legal or life decisions for the child. It is relatively common for a parent to retain legal custody even if they do not have physical custody. This means that the parent must be consulted and must agree on important decision such as medical care, educational services or financial matters pertaining to the child.

The degree to which a parent has custody often follows a spectrum ranging from full custody to no custody. Many couples are able to negotiate a joint-custody arrangement, and this is often seen as the most beneficial. In joint-custody, each parent shares the responsibilities of custody. This often alleviates the need for child support because each parent is directly fulfilling their responsibilities to care for the child.


When a parent is not granted physical custody or when another family member such as a grandparent wishes access to the child, visitation rights may be granted. Visitation is separate from custody and is simply a means of providing for the relationship between the child and the person seeking visitation. Parents will generally have the right to visitation so long as there is no evidence of abuse and the court agrees that the relationship is beneficial.

Exactly how visitation works is highly varied with few strict guidelines. The court often prefers that parents work out their own visitation schedule and agreement. A judge gets involved only if the parents cannot agree or if the current agreement has been repeatedly violated. When drafting visitation into a custody agreement, it is important to be as specific as necessary while allowing for some flexibility. A parent should discuss with their attorney how exactly to word the agreement so that it works.

Options for Child Custody

Parents have a variety of legal options when it comes to drafting a child custody agreement. Usually, these agreements are laid out during divorce proceedings. The parents may be able to reach an agreement entirely on their own, or they may use a minimally invasive process like mediation. If necessary, the agreement can be litigated, and the judge will ultimately decide. A parent may need representation in court and is entitled to legal support and advice even during mediation. No matter which option is chosen, it is important that an attorney help with drafting the agreement and look over any agreement provided. We can help parents with this often complicated and difficult process.