In child custody cases, New York law requires judges to use the “best interests of the child” standard. Chances are you’ve heard that phrase. But what, really, does that mean for you in your child custody case? The reality is that it can mean different things in different situations. The things a judge will consider, and the weight the court will give them, can vary depending on certain factual details like a child’s age and maturity. If a child is older and appears mature to the judge, that child’s express wishes will go a long way in deciding what is in his or her best interests. His or her wishes, however, will not automatically decide the case; the court will still look at many factors. To make sure that you are properly prepared to protect your interests and the interests of your loved ones in your custody case, make sure to retain an experienced New York child custody attorney.
A recently decided New York City case involving a Brooklyn family provides a real-life example of how courts will decide custody cases involving mature, older children. The parents in the case were married in 1997, and the husband filed for divorce 15 years later. The couple had one child, born relatively early in the marriage. Eventually, law enforcement arrested the mother for embezzling more than $80,000 from the PTA at the daughter’s school, where the mother was the treasurer. After failing to make required restitution payments, the mother was eventually incarcerated for a time. After her release, the mother sought and obtained an office in the PTA at the daughter’s new high school, only to resign after the media discovered her troubled past.
In this case, the trial court decided that the father should receive sole legal and physical custody. The Appellate Division ruled that the lower court had ample evidence to make the ruling it did. As a practical matter, it is important to recognize just how vital it is to put “your best foot forward” in your trial court hearing. Cases like child custody matters involve many determinations of parents’ (and witnesses’) character and credibility. Since the trial court is the one in position to assess the evidence, the parties, and the witnesses firsthand, it is often very difficult to overcome a ruling through an appeal, since these types of decisions are given much deference by appellate courts.