There is a misconception floating around about children being able to choose which parent to live with once they reach a certain age, such as 12, 13, or 14. If you heard that once a child turns 12 or 13 in New York, he or she can choose which parent to live with, that’s not exactly true. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but children do not have the power to choose their destiny in child custody disputes – only judges have that ability.
“But don’t judges listen to children’s wishes?” Yes, absolutely. Family court judges are interested in hearing about a child’s preference; however, more weight is given to a mature child and a child who is older. But, those factors alone are not enough to guarantee a children will get what they want. Children are easily manipulated by adults and enticed by the promise of no rules, expensive gifts, brand-new cars, etc. and judges are aware keenly aware of this.
Best Interests of the Child Doctrine
Parents have a lot of leeway in regard to child custody if they can agree on a schedule, but if parents are fighting over child custody, a non-biased, objective judge will have to step in and decide on the matter. In all child custody disputes in New York, judges consider the following factors and how they relate to the best interests of the child:
- The child’s preference
- The parents’ reasons for wanting custody
- The age and health of both parents
- Each parent’s ability to support their child
- Any history of domestic violence
- Any history of substance abuse
- Any history of abandonment or child neglect
- Any criminal record history
- Each parent’s schedule
- The child’s ties to their school and the community
New York State Criteria for Unfit Parent
If you are seeking an arrangement where you have primary or even sole custody of your child, the judge is going to want to know if the other parent is financially independent, emotionally stable, and loving. Does he or she meet this criterion, or do they lack good parenting skills? The judge will want to know.
In the absence of substance abuse, criminal behavior, and domestic violence, the judge may lean toward a joint custody arrangement if you live in the same community and are both fighting for custody. But if the other parent creates an unhealthy home environment and it threatens your child’s well-being, the judge will need to be made aware of this.