Custody of children in New York Family Court or Divorce

Custody considerations in New York State Family Court

Seeking custody of your child is a complicated process that requires the skill of an experienced New York family law attorney .  Custody refers to the rights of parents to their minor children, including the right to have their minor children live in the same household with them and the right to make all decisions regarding their children's education, health, and overall well-being.  The first of these is referred to as physical or residential custody, while the second is called legal custody.  Most custody agreements or family court orders address both rights and determine separately the issues of whether the parents have joint physical custody or whether one parent has primary custody.  A family court custody order will rarely order joint physical custody.  One parent will almost always be determined to have primary physical custody, even if the other parent is with the child 49.99% of the time.  This issue is related to the determination of which parent is the recipient of child support from the other. Nevertheless, joint physical custody may be obtained in lieu of a family court order where there is a custody agreement providing for such between the parties.  

Columbia County custody lawyer Heidi Cochrane provides the experience necessary to advise you of the best approach for your needs and the sometimes complicated interaction between custody arrangements and child support.  When one parent is awarded sole legal custody by the family court, the other parent is then bound by law to comply with the parenting rules and decisions of the custodial parent. Where parents are awarded joint legal custody by the family court, which is usually the case, they then have equal say in crucial decisions regarding the upbringing, education; and health treatment of the child.  

When one parent is awarded primary custody of a child by a family court judge, the rights of the other parent to the child are not terminated. Absent a determination by the Columbia County family court that visitation with that parent would be harmful to the child, noncustodial parents retain their visitation rights. In some cases, a noncustodial parent may even seek to gain primary custody at a later date if there is a substantial change in circumstances, such as a family court's determination of the custodial parent's inability to meet the physical or emotional needs of the child.   

Custody in New York may be determined either by a custody agreement entered into by the parents and approved by the family court or a custody judgment that has been ordered by a Columbia County family court judge. In both cases, the rights of each parent to any minor children are established by the family court and it is clear what proportion of time the children will live with each parent, and which parent (if not both) makes the decisions with regard to the children's:



child care

health care




summer camps; and 

even friends.

The custody agreement or New York family court judgment will also specify when the children will be with each parent and may also spell out any restrictions or conditions placed on the parent while he or she is caring for the children, as well how the responsibility for transporting the children is to be proportioned. Where no agreement can be reached, experienced Columbia County family court lawyer Heidi Cochrane rigorously presents the facts most favorable to her client and the attorney for the child, whose position frequently plays an important role in the judge's decision-making process. 

In determining custody, the Columbia County family court judge is bound to consider the best interests of the child, which is determined by considering a number of factors. These include each parent's parenting ability, particularly as it applies to his or her ability to meet a child's emotional and physical needs. Where a parent has a diagnosed mental illness, abuses drugs or alcohol, has been neglectful of the children, has abandoned the children, or has attempted to alienate or withhold the children from the other parent, custody can be more difficult to obtain.   The family court judge will also consider the quality of the relationship between each parent and child, as well as a child's preference. The weight of any stated preference by the child will depend on the child's age and maturity, as well as whether or not it is given freely and free from coercion by either parent. 

The family court judges also place weight on maintaining the stability of a child's environment and are reluctant to separate siblings unless warranted by unusual circumstances.  New York custody courts have emphasized the importance of the parent-child relationship by establishing that unless visitation with the child by the noncustodial parent is shown to be harmful, visitation must be provided for in any initial child custody determination.  Where parents live within a reasonable distance of one another, custody courts generally promote regular and frequent visitation, provided it does not interrupt the schooling of the child. Where parents live further apart, the court may order visitation on weekends only or, in the case of parents who live at a significant distance from one another, on school holidays and vacations. As in the case with child custody, a child's desires may also be considered by the family court judge when determining visitation, but will not in themselves be determinative. 

Favorable outcomes in family court representation involving custody by our firm have included family courts located in Hudson (Columbia County), Catskill (Greene County, Poughkeepsie (Dutchess County), and Kingston (Ulster County), as well as additional counties throughout upstate New York.

Custody determinations in New York State are based on a "best interests of the child" standard.

Custody determinations in New York State are based on a "best interests of the child" standard.

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The Law Offices of Heidi T. Cochrane

PO Box 117, 2602 Route 23, Hillsdale, New York 12529, United States

(518) 965-1077