The legal interests of children often play a significant role in court decisions regarding child custody, child support, adoption, enforcement of surrogacy agreements, and related matters. Understanding the concept of “best interests of the child” is crucial to understanding how the New York judicial system resolves these many disputes.
A balancing test
The “best interests of the child” test requires the court to weigh the well-being of the child against the individual interests or wishes of either parent. In other words, the test requires the court to balance the ability of each parent to meet the child’s physical and emotional needs.
New York law lays out a number of specific factors that the court must consider. Among these factors are:
- The stability of the relationship between the child and whichever parent has had exclusive physical custody of the child
- The ability of either parent to arrange proper childcare arrangements for periods when neither parent is available
- Whichever parent in fact had primary responsibility for the physical care and custody of the child
- Whether either parent has a history of drug or alcohol abuse
- The mental health of the parents or either of them
- The parents’ physical and mental health
- Whether either parent has a history of spousal abuse
- The child’s preference, depending upon whether the child is old enough to express a proper opinion in this subject
- The fitness of the home environment provided by each parent
- Where the child’s siblings (if any) live
- Each parent’s financial situation
- The court’s observations of the parents and their relationship with the child
The law also permits the court to consider any other relevant factors that may bear upon the decision. This last factor gives the court much discretion in deciding issues of custody based upon last minute observations of the child and either of the parents.
How a court may interpret or apply the “best interests of the child” test cannot be predicted in advance. Anyone who faces a sharp conflict over a child custody issue may wish to consult an attorney experienced family law attorney for an evaluation of the evidence and an opinion on the likelihood of the court ruling in favor of either parent.