Articles Posted in Child Custody

Mediation-Couch-300x200Divorce is rarely straightforward. There are a lot of things that couples need to cover when a marriage comes to an end, including figuring out how debts and assets should be divided between parties, and determining who should have primary custody over the children. However, depending on the nature of your relationship with your ex-spouse, and the strategy you choose for managing your divorce, it is possible to make things a little simpler.

Divorce mediation is often a more straightforward way to deal with divorce for the couples I work with that want to avoid things like litigation. During mediation, couples have the chance to discuss the outcomes that they want to achieve with their divorce and negotiate the terms of things like maintenance aka spousal support, maintenance, equitable distribution and more. For many parties, a divorce mediation is a more relaxing and fast-paced strategy for handling the various complications that arrive during divorce. That’s why I’m so committed to giving the people I work with the opportunity to choose mediation if they feel that it’s right for them. Continue reading

Review-Attorney-Picture-300x199Most of the time, the appellate courts recognize that the trial courts of New York are given a great deal of discretion to make decisions about child custody and visitation aka parenting time matters. This is because it is recognized that these courts are in the best position to determine what is in the best interests of a child.  The trial court’s opportunity comes from the ability to assess the character and demeanor of the parties, witnesses.  The theory is that combining the court’s observations of the witnesses in the case, combined with the submitted evidence puts the trial court in the best position to make custody determinations. As I mentioned in my previous blog post, it’s unlikely for the appellate court to overturn the decision an appeal is made by a parent or parents who want to appeal a custody or visitation decision. However, it does happen at times and it may be possible for the matter to be overturned in an appellate court if the attorney for the appealing party can prove that that there was not a substantial or sound basis for the custody decision in the first place.

For instance, in the relatively recent case of Weisberger v Weisberger,  154 AD3d 41 (2nd Dept. 2017) the court found that the trial court’s previous decision to modify the stipulation and award full custody of the children to the father in the case was made without a substantial and sound basis in the record. According to the details of the case, the trial court gave excessive weight to the religious upbringing clause in the case, rather than focusing exclusively on the children’s best interests. There’s nothing to show that unsupervised visitation was detrimental to the children, and it was therefore inappropriate for the court to order supervised visitation. Continue reading

Lawyerlaptop-300x200Child custody is a complicated part of divorce and family law.

Parents will often fight tooth and nail to get the custody order that they believe is right for their family. Even after a court order has been ruled on by the trial court, one or sometimes both parties to the case may seek to appeal the decision of the trial court. However, because the trial court is vested with broad discretion to determine what is in the best interests of the child in mind when making custody decisions, it’s unlikely that arrangements will be changed in most situations on appeal. The courts in New York strive, in theory, to keep the disruption to a child to a minimum when making decisions about their future.

Typically, the decision of how to award custody is made in a trial court which is either the Supreme Court, in cases of divorces, or Family Court can also deal with child custody cases. The case law stands for the propositions that the trial court needs to be able to weigh various factors, including the character, sincerity, and testimony of the parties involved. The trial court has access to both parties and can supplement the information it learns from everyone with professionally prepared documentation and reports if such evidence is submitted. If one party in the case is unhappy with the outcome, then they can ask to have the matter reconsidered by the appellate court. However, appellate courts are often reluctant to re-evaluate the subjective factors addressed by the trial court. Additionally, decisions of trial courts are usually upheld, on an appeal, unless the party can prove that there was a lack of a sound or substantial basis, in the record, for the trial court’s original order. Continue reading

Relocation-Picture-300x200There are many complicated aspects of family law. Arranging equitable distribution in a divorce can be difficult, particularly in cases where it’s hard for the couple to agree. Deciding who should get control over a family home is also a complex discussion. However, few things require more caution and careful consideration than issues associated with child custody. Not only does a child custody agreement need to be approved by a court based on an observation of what’s in the child’s “best interests,” but changing the order is a challenge. Even if a modification of child was right for the child, absent an agreement about it, the court would need to see a substantial change in circumstances before even getting to the issue of whether the modification is in the best interests of the child or children.

When working with clients on family law issues that involve child custody agreements and visitation or parenting time rights, I find that it’s essential to highlight the complexity involved in making the right decision for a child. The courts of New York and Long Island will not disrupt a child’s life and growth by altering their custody situation unless there is a good reason to do so, that’s why a substantial change in circumstances is crucial. It’s also essential for the people requesting the change to show that the alteration is in the best interests of the child.

In the past, the situation used to be that if people agreed in advance that another parent would be able to relocate as part of a written agreement that was ordered by the court, the agreement would control the relocation. However, that may not be the case today. The court can no longer automatically say what might be in the best interests of a child without hearing the full case. Continue reading

ChildSupportMediationCouple-300x200As a divorce attorney and divorce mediator, I often ask questions to learn more about my clients and their cases. Many aspects of law revolve around the ability to ask the right questions at the correct times. Recently, I attended a conference at the New York State Council of Divorce Mediation, to further my education on Divorce Mediation and network with my peers. During that event, Kenneth Cloke, JD, Ph.D., and LLM provided an interesting training session on the “art of asking questions.” This session raised some interesting insights in the questions in divorce and family law mediation cases, and I’ve written this blog to share those insights with you.

In any legal case, asking the right questions is crucial. For a divorce mediator, asking questions can be complicated and even dangerous, because it sparks emotional responses in clients. Sometimes, you need to ask the difficult questions to get to the deeper meaning behind certain issues and domestic disputes. One thing that all divorce attorneys and mediators see, is that the disputes between parties in a divorce are often two-dimensional. Dr. Cloke points out, usually, a husband or wife complaining about dirty dishes left in the sink isn’t just about the dishes – it’s also about the lack of respect that someone shows when they ignore something important to their spouse. Continue reading

Baby-and-Mom-300x200When a child’s parents are unwilling, unavailable or unfit to care for their children for any reason, another adult may be awarded either a guardianship of the children or custody of the children. Under New York family law, guardianship and custody are two related but distinct concepts, and the intersection of the two can be complex at times.

As a default rule, a child’s parents are awarded custody of their children. This includes physical custody (where the child lives) as well as legal custody (the right to make important life decisions for the child). However, in some cases, a child’s parents are either unavailable or unable to care for their children and an alternative caretaker must be established. Thus, custody in this context generally refers to a non-parent.

New York Guardianship

A minor child who is under the age of 18 and is not married must have a legal guardian. Once appointed, a legal guardian has the same power as a child’s parent to make decisions for the child.
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In a recent post, we discussed New York child support agreements and how the parties to a divorce may be able to agree to the payment and amount of child support Outsidequarrelcouple-300x200rather than have the court make that determination. We also discussed a situation in which the court was likely to set aside a child support agreement. This week, we will take a more in-depth look into how courts view New York child support agreements.

As a general matter, a properly drafted New York child support agreement will remain enforceable over time. However, in reality, circumstances and relationships change, and it is not uncommon for either party to an agreement to ask the court to modify or set aside the agreement if they believe that it is no longer fair to them or to the children subject to the agreement.

The default law (for support orders made nowadays), unless people opt out of them is that either party to a  child support order may seek to modify it:  every three years; if income changes by 15% or more; or there has otherwise been a substantial change of circumstances.  The parties to a properly drafted and executed written stipulation may opt of those first two reasons.  If people have opted out of the default reasons to modify the agreement or the order predated the 2010 child support law, then the Courts will only grant a party’s request for an upward modification (meaning an increase in the child support obligation) if the requesting party can establish one of three circumstances:

  • When it appears that the needs of the child are not being met;
  • There has been an unanticipated change in circumstances, as well as a showing by the moving party that there is a need for modification; or
  • The agreement was unfair or inequitable when it was made.

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Over the past few weeks, we’ve taken a look at the process of New York divorce mediation, in which parties work together to come up with an agreement regarding Parentswithbaby-300x200many issues that would otherwise be decided by a judge. Last week, we discussed the fact that a New York divorce mediation can include terms that cover the custody of minor children, and provided an example where the court upheld a parties’ agreement although it was later contested by one of the parties.

It is important to note, however, that courts retain discretion in determining New York child custody issues. So, while the parties to a New York divorce are free to come to an agreement between themselves regarding child-custody matters, if the court determines that the parties’ agreement is not in the best interest of the children involved the court can set aside the agreement.

There are two common ways this situation arises. The first is during the judge’s initial review of the parties’ agreement and the second is if one of the spouses requests a modification to the child-custody agreement after the court has approved the agreement and the divorce is final. Once a child-custody agreement is approved, courts will not modify that agreement unless there is a substantial change in circumstances and the party seeking modification can show that modification is in the best interests of the children. A recent case illustrates a situation in which a court found that each of these elements was met and, thus, modified the agreement.

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Childrensmiling-300x209In New York, the parties to a divorce have the option to enter into a mutually acceptable separation agreement if they can agree on the terms of the divorce. For the most part, courts will uphold the terms of valid New York separation agreements. However, the court retains ultimate jurisdiction over specific issues.

For example, when it comes to determining New York child custody issues, the parties are free to discuss the issue and come up with an arrangement that works for both parties. However, under New York family law, the primary factor courts consider when deciding child custody issues is what is in the best interest of the children. Thus, if a separation agreement provides for a custody arrangement that is not in the best interest of the children, the court may not enforce that provision of the agreement. Similarly, an agreement as to the physical location where the child will live is also subject to the court’s “best interest” analysis.

Once a separation agreement is accepted by the court and incorporated into a New York divorce proceeding, the terms of the agreement will remain in force unless there is a change in circumstances. A recent case illustrates how New York courts handle a party’s request to modify a previously agreed upon custody arrangement. Continue reading

There are many complex cases to consider in the world of family law. Some of the most often-discussed cases includeTeenage-girls-bench-300x200 those to do with divorce, child support, child custody and parenting time cases. However, there are also instances in which a parent may be accused of neglecting or abusing a child – either in a case brought in family court or outside of court after a CPS or ACS investigation.  Child neglect can appear in many different allegations, from a parent being accused of being unable or unwilling to provide their child with the right food and hygienic care to keep them healthy, to a care-provider being accused of neglecting to give a child the expected education.

The law says children are entitled to an education. If a parent fails to provide their child with that education, the belief is that they could be harming that child’s future and making it harder for them to succeed in life. As such, issues with education are often referenced in cases regarding abuse and neglect.

In New York, the family court defines a child suffering from educational neglect as an individual under the age of 18 whose mental, emotional, or physical condition is either impaired or in danger of becoming impaired because of a failure on the behalf of the parent to provide the right level of education. Parents are responsible for supplying children with an adequate education in accordance with the New York Education law. Continue reading