Relocating With Children After Divorce

After a divorce is final, the issue of child custody and visitation may be renewed. Typically the noncustodial parent will be allowed to see their child(ren) once a week, and every other weekend, with provisions for summer breaks and holidays. Trouble may arise when the custodial parent wants to relocate to a locale which may interfere with the noncustodial parent’s visitation. Though it is well settled that the residential parent is free to relocate where ever they so desire, this does not necessarily mean that they can also take the child(ren) in question.

In New York, relocation cases are no longer measured by a particular formula or a set of presumptions which must be proven. Instead, each case must be considered on its own set of facts and circumstances with the overriding concern being the best interests of the child(ren). The rights of the child(ren) in question will be accorded the greatest weight in the Court’s determination as to whether the residential parent may be allowed to move. When defining what is in the best interests of the child(ren) in question the Court will look at numerous factors. First, the Court will look at the relationship between the child(ren) and the noncustodial parent with an eye towards continuing to foster the relationship. Perhaps there is an easy solution. For example, if a move will inhibit the weekly mid-week visit but the residential parent is willing to allow extended weekend visits, this might be a situation where the all parties might benefit.

Obviously, economic concerns are a factor and when the move is being made in good faith and for a better paying job, the Courts will take a hard look at allowing the move. Another factor the Court will consider is the suitability of the noncustodial parent to become the custodial parent. A solution may be a simple as changing the residential custody arrangement to the parent who is not moving. Before changing the residential custody arrangements, the Courts will also take into consideration the effect that the relocation and/ or transfer of custody will have on the child and the child’s wants and needs. Ultimately the Court will have to determine, based on all the facts presented, by a preponderance of the evidence, whether the relocation is in the best interests of the child.

LEARNING POINT: Even though residential custody may have been settled in your divorce, circumstances may arise where relocation of the child(ren) of your marriage once again becomes an issue. Whether you are for or against the move, the standard is the best interests of the child(ren) and you must be in a position to present your wishes to the Court. Contact us immediately if relocation of the child(ren) is now an issue for you. Effective representation is the only way to ensure that your wants and needs are effectively communicated to the Court.

relocation of children after divorce

Fighting For Custody of A Child

Child Custody Lawyer Long Island

If the parties in a divorce cannot agree on who should have residential custody, a full hearing will be needed. At said hearing both sides and the law guardian, the child custody lawyer appointed to represent the children’s interests, will be allowed to present evidence. These hearings are lengthy and may last a couple of days.

To assist the Court in determining what is in the best interest of the children and thus, which parent should retain residential custody, the Court may appoint an expert to assist. The Court may direct the parties to submit to a forensic examination. §251 of the Family Court Act expressly empowers the Court to subject a parent or other person legally responsible for the care of a child to submit to an examination by a physician, psychiatrist or psychologist. The examination is limited to the purpose of assisting the Court in resolving child custody. Non-parties may not be ordered to attend an examination over their objection without prior notice of a Court application for such relief.

As a general rule, the reports generated by the forensic expert will not be admissible unless both sides agree. Generally, the expert must testify and be subjected to cross examination. The expert fees will be paid by the parties on a pro rata basis. The Court is not necessarily bound by the opinions and recommendations of said expert if the Court determines that the recommendation was based on inadequate information, there is a clear bias for or against a party, or the expert ignored significant conduct of one of the parties. In addition to the forensic report, a Court may order a “home study.” Much like it sounds, this is a study to observe the conditions of the home.

Finally, in determining what is in the best interest of the children, their opinions and thoughts will be taken into consideration by the Court. The law guardian is there specifically to ensure their concerns are adequately represented. The law guardian is paid for by the parents, again, on a pro rata basis. Obviously, the younger the children at issue, the less of an impact their wants and desires will have on the Court. On the other hand, if you have teenage children, the older they are, the more weight the Court will give to their opinions.

LEARNING POINT: Custody battles are long and expensive and should not be entered into lightly. You and your children will be subjected to questions by experts. The best practice, if possible, is to amicably settle child custody issues. However, if settlement is not possible, you must be ready for a protracted battle in which you will need top notch representation. Call us immediately for a free consultation to map out the best strategy for your case.

Child Custody Lawyer Long Island

Which Spouse Retains Residential Custody?

Child Custody Long Island

When deciding which spouse will retain residential custody, the Court will have to determine what is in the best interest of the children in question. Until recently, NY followed the “tender years presumption” which stated that mothers were inherently better suited to assume the custody of young children. This presumption has been abolished and the law is currently gender neutral. Thus, there is no prima facie right to custody of a child to either parent. The Court will consider a host of factors when deciding what is in the best interests of the child. Factors the Court will contemplate include: (1) the parent’s physical and mental health; (2) the use of drugs and/or alcohol; (3) sexual activity; (4) lifestyle; (5) neglect abuse or abandonment; (6) physical or emotional abuse and (7) the parent’s relative economic status. These are just a few of the examples which the Court will consider. The Court will not give more weight to any particular factor it considers. Instead the Court will consider the totality of the circumstances when making a determination.

In evaluating what is in the best interests of the child, the home environment and ability to meet the child’s needs will need to be ascertained. The Court will consider the quality of the home environment each parent is able to provide for the child. Thus, the Court will be looking not only to the physical safety of the home, but each parent’s ability to provide for the child’s emotional, social and intellectual development. The Court’s prefer for the direct guidance and care of the child vice a third party like a baby sitter or nanny. So you may be thinking now, how does the financial resources of a parent effect the Court’s analysis?

A parent that makes more money may be able to provide a “better” home and nicer environment however Courts take into consideration the fact that if you are the non-monied spouse, you will also be entitled to child support which will level the playing field. On the other hand, while a third party is not necessarily looked on favorably by the Court, an argument can be made that in today’s environment, both parents need to work and someone may need to watch the child. If you have the financial resources to afford a nanny or day care, that will also be factored into the equation.

LEARNING POINT: The totality of circumstance will decide who gets custody. If custody cannot be worked out between the separating parties, consult an attorney quickly. You must start preparing your case immediately and shoring up your position. You do not want early decisions to have a detrimental effect on your ability to maintain custody of your child.

child custody long island

Joint Custody

Joint Custody In New York

Domestic Relations Law §240 grants the Court authority to award custody of a child to both parents, otherwise known as joint custody. What does this mean? If it works, it can mean equal custody. I’ve seen it done two ways. First, the parents keep the marital home and the children live in there. The parents swap in and out of the house. Second, I’ve seen it where the children split the week between the two parents. This of course normally lasts only until one of the two parents move on and begins a new relationship. Thus, the joint custody arrangement is fragile at best, even if both parents are working together in good faith. An easy example of how this arrangement may break down is if one parent needs to relocate just far enough making joint custody impracticable. In order for joint custody to work, both parents have to agree. If one party does not agree, the Court will not order joint custody especially where it can be shown that the parents cannot work together.

When thinking about joint custody, there are two components. First, there is joint legal custody. Joint legal custody refers to joint decision making in such things as health care, education, religious upbringing and discipline. Then there is joint physical custody. Physical custody is concerned with the child’s day to day residence. Thus, joint legal custody does not necessarily equate to joint physical custody.

Another way to think about this is as follows. Joint legal custody deals with life decisions for your child. Normally, absent Court intervention, you will always have a say in raising your child. You will have input on all major decisions. What you are really concerned about is residential or physical custody. In other words, where will your child sleep at night on a regular basis? Normally, the parent who is awarded residential custody will have final say on major decisions regarding the child. So, if you do not have residential custody, you still have input on major decisions however, if an agreement cannot be reached, then your ex-spouse will ultimately have the final word. All of this will be spelled out in an agreement and or Court order.

LEARNING POINT: Custody is a serious issue which can be hard to navigate, especially if parents cannot get along. While joint physical custody is an option, it is rarely used because of the difficulties in maintaining such an arrangement. Call us for a free consultation regarding what steps you need to undertake and what factors you need to consider when contemplating a divorce with children.