Child custody hearings in New York City and throughout the state of New York are handled by the Family Courts. This is a unique area of the law that requires deep knowledge and skills to navigate. Unlike almost all other legal areas, the Family Courts are heavily reliant on case law and its interpretation. Additionally, judges in the Family Court system are granted wide leeway to come to decisions based on the individual facts of the cases before them. This makes child custody hearings one of the most subjective areas of the law, often hinging on such things as character witnesses and the impression the parties give to the presiding judge.
All of this means that it is wholly unwise to attempt to navigate this complicated system without the help of a skilled and experienced lawyer. The right lawyer can give you the edge to come out on top of your child custody hearing. And that is an opportunity you should always take, because the rulings of Family Courts are usually in effect until the child reaches the age of 18.
In New York, there are two types of custody
In the state of New York, as in many other jurisdictions throughout the country, there are two recognized forms of custody. The first is referred to as physical custody. This is used to describe the right of one of the parents to form the primary household in which the child will reside. Although the granting of joint physical custody is rare, due to the fact that almost all parties appearing before the Family Courts have physically separated from each other and live in difference domiciles, this does not mean that the non-custodial parent has no right to see the child or have them reside with them on a temporary basis.
In fact, in the vast majority of custody cases, the physically non-custodial parent will be granted a significant number of visitation days each month. This will typically include the ability of the child to reside in the non-custodial parent’s residence, on a temporary basis, during the visitation period.
The other form of custody is called legal custody. This refers to the right of one or both parents to make important decisions on behalf of the child as well as the ability to veto any decision with which they do not agree. This form of custody is awarded jointly in far more cases. However, the Family Courts are generally hesitant in awarding joint custody in cases where there is demonstrated animosity or friction between the parties. This is because joint custody, in the case of parties that do not get along, often results in constant deadlock when one parent vetoes the decisions of the other.
For this reason, in many cases that come before the courts, one parent will be granted sole legal custody. This does not mean, however, that the other parent has no rights regarding matters of religion, education, healthcare and others that will affect the child. These non-custodial parents still have recourse through the courts, with the ability to petition the court for an injunctions, should the custodial parent take an action that is potentially contrary to the best interests of the child.
However, if your goal is to be granted joint custody over your child, and the case is already being heard or will soon be heard within the Family Courts, a better strategy may be to attempt to be granted sole legal custody. Although the other parent may still have recourse to veto your decisions, it makes things far easier to have sole legal custody.