If you are facing a child custody dispute in the state of New York, the best move that you can possibly make is to hire a skilled and experienced lawyer to go to bat on your behalf.
Throughout the state of New York, all child custody proceedings are handled by the Family Court. This branch of the judicial system operates on its own unique set of principles. It is largely not an area of the law that is informed by statutes. Although some laws on the books, such as Domestic Relations Law 70, do define certain areas of Family Law, most of the things that go on in Family Court are framed by the body of existing relevant case law.
Because nearly the entirety of Family Court law is based on cases and the judicial interpretations contained within them, it is a particularly vast and challenging area of the law in which to practice. Even experienced Family Court lawyers are routinely challenged by the cases set before them. Such complexity makes it almost impossible for anyone without extensive experience in Family Court to successfully represent themselves.
For these reasons, it is imperative that you get the most competent lawyer you can find, the moment you discover that you will have to present before Family Court in a child custody hearing.
In the state of New York, there are two broad categories of custody. The first is referred to as physical custody. This is generally synonymous with residential custody and is normally awarded, by default, to the parent with whom the child lives. Although in certain, exigent cases, it may be possible for the parent not living with the child to be awarded physical custody.
The second type of custody is legal custody. Legal custody is separate from physical custody and, while it is generally awarded to the parent who has physical custody, it may or may not be awarded to the parent without physical custody. If no legal custody is awarded to a parent, that parent will almost always still enjoy visitation rights.
Legal custody implies that any parent who enjoys it has absolute veto power of three crucial areas in which decisions will need to be made on behalf of the child. These areas are religion, education and health care. Because joint custody, that is, legal custody awarded to both parents, creates a situation where one parent can veto every decision that the other parent makes on behalf of the child in these three areas, it is usually only awarded in non-contentious cases. This is done in order to avoid deadlock.
However, even where legal custody is not rewarded, the non-custodial parent will still often have the right to petition the court for an intervention, particularly in cases where the parent deems that the decision of the custodial parent is not in the child’s best interest.
One of the benefits of hiring an experienced lawyer to represent you in Family Court is that they have the experience and skills to ensure that you will always put your best foot forward. While in criminal court, things like appearance of the defendant and the politeness with which they interact with the judge are, at least in theory, supposed to have no bearing on the outcome of the case, in Family Court, those things can matter tremendously.
A good lawyer can help an anger-prone client avoid giving a bad impression by handling all of the courtroom interaction on behalf of the client. There are many other ways in which a good lawyer can help. It’s best never to enter a custody hearing without competent counsel.