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If you find yourself in the midst of a child custody battle in the Long Island area, the first thing you should know is that going it alone is not likely to get you the results you’re looking for. In the state of New York, all child custody proceedings are handled by the Family Courts. These courts give an unusual amount of power to judges and are generally not subject to appeal. This means that a family court decision can easily end up affecting you and your child for the next 18 years, the age of majority in New York, or more.
Additionally, the Family Courts have a number of idiosyncratic traits that make it a uniquely challenging and singular area in which to practice law. For these reasons, the best move you can possibly make is to hire a lawyer that specializes in child custody cases and knows their way around the Family Court system like it’s second nature.
Child custody cases are far different than the processes that drive criminal and civil proceedings. In the case of most other legal cases, the entire process hinges on establishing evidence and facts that either demonstrate guilt or innocence based on past events. However, in the Family Courts, the main purpose is to guess what future situations will best serve the interests of children. This necessarily involves a good deal of guesswork, and makes use of a dramatically different process than other areas of legal practice.
For example, in child custody hearings, such things as expert testimony, whether from court appointed psychologists or state child services investigators, can often have a decisive impact on the outcome of the hearings. Likewise, past behavior on the part of one of the parents, such as alcohol use, criminal history or even courtroom behavior, things that normally may impact sentencing, in the Family Courts may have a strong impact on the factual findings of the court.
This makes the services of a good lawyer who specializes in these proceedings of particularly high value. An experienced and knowledgeable Family Court lawyer can control the flow of evidence, select what witnesses will appear and can control the overall tone and narrative of the hearing. Whereas these things may be of secondary importance in a criminal or civil trial, in Family Court proceedings, they gain a primacy that can easily sway the outcome of the hearing one way or another.
In the state of New York, there are two main categories of custody. The first involves physical custody. This simply refers to the person with whom the child lives most of the time. The physically non-custodial parent may still have the right for the child to visit and even live with them on a temporary basis. Almost all parents will have at least the limited right of visitation with their child.
The second type of custody is called legal custody. This term is used to refer to the ability of the custodial parents to participate in any decisions that will have a material affect on the well being of the child. These decisions usually occur in the areas of religion, healthcare and education but may entail other areas relevant to the child’s life.
Parents may sometimes be granted joint legal custody, but the Family Court will generally shy away from granting sole custody in cases where there is obvious animosity between the parents. This is because parents who don’t get along tend to deadlock on even the simplest decisions regarding the life of their child.