The “child’s best interest” standard is the guiding principle a court will use in determining child custody and visitation. The child’s physical, emotional, and mental needs are of top priority, and take precedent over her parents’ interests. This standard is meant to ensure the best circumstances for the ongoing adjustment and development of the child.

How is the Child’s Best Interest Determined in New York?

New York allows its judges broad discretion in determining what is in a child’s best interest. Many factors are taken into consideration, with the primary goal of promoting the happiness and welfare of the child. Every case is different from the next, and judges will consider the facts and circumstances of each familial situation.

The standard is purposefully vague in recognition of the fact every situation is different and the overall focus must be on the best outcome for the child. This means that similar situations and circumstances can result in completely different outcomes, and it can be due to the small difference between the cases.

Are There Any Specific Considerations?

While there isn’t a checklist of specific considerations, a judge will take into account many factors before reaching a decision, including (but not limited to):

  • History of Abuse and Domestic Violence: Judges will place most emphasis on abuse toward the child, but any other abuse is also considered.
  • Home Environment:  In New York, a child’s environment and safety are very important in determining her best interest. Instances of loaded weapons, or even turbulent relationships could be a determining factor.
  • Military Service: If a parent is an active member of the military and unable to be present for the hearing, the judge may modify a custody order to protect the child’s best interest. The judge may also require the custodial parent to facilitate communication between the child and active military parent in the forms of webcam, email, and telephone.
  • Finances: If a parent is unable to provide for their child, a judge will have to act in the child’s best interest and place her where she will be secure.
  • Drug and Alcohol Use: The history and current use of drugs and alcohol, as well as any involvement from agencies such as social services and law enforcement.

Can the Child’s Best Interests Standard be Overridden?

Since New York’s best interest standard is purposefully vague, it is hard to say when the standard can be “overridden.” Ultimately, the best interest standard is for the judges will always act in the best interest of the child in question. But, the judge will take many factors into consideration, including any factors that can be considered an “overriding” factors in other states.

Should I Hire a Family Lawyer?

Child custody and visitation rights cases can be quite stressful, with many filings and deadlines that must be met. An experienced New York child custody lawyer can help build your case, ensure you are in line with New York law, and represent your best interests in court.