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Top Child Custody Lawyers in Suffolk County, Long Island
Child custody is frequently the most contentious component of any divorce or Family Court case. Both sides will often stop at nothing to secure custody of the children. An experienced and knowledgeable Suffolk County child custody lawyer is essential during the difficult and stressful times of custody litigation. At the Law Office of Louis L. Sternberg, we represent clients to ensure that the best interests of the children are protected.
Components of Custody in New York
Child Custody, under New York law, has three essential components – residential custody, legal custody and visitation.
Residential Custody in New York
Residential custody is what most people think of as simply having “custody.” Residential custody refers to the right to have the child or children reside primarily with the parent. Residential custody is sometimes referred to as physical custody or primary custody. One party having residential custody does not prohibit a joint legal custody arrangement nor does it mean that the non-custodial parent is not entitled to potentially expansive visitation / parenting time.
Legal Custody in New York
Legal custody refers to the right to make decisions regarding certain aspects of the child’s upbringing such as education and medical care. Sole legal custody describes situations in which only one parent has the right to make the major decisions for the children. The other parent has authority to make any such decisions or even to be consulted on such decisions. Joint custody (or joint legal custody) occurs when both parents have legal custody of the child (the right to make certain decisions about the child’s upbringing). Even in situations of joint custody, only one parent is usually designated as the parent with physical custody. Often, this means that the parents must consult with each other before making any major decision regarding the child’s medical needs, education or religious upbringing. Generally, joint custody is ordered only when the parties agree to it but, in exceedingly rare cases, a court may award joint custody to the parents after a trial.
Legal custody can also be addressed by delegating “spheres of influence” to individual parties. By way of example, the mother may have decision-making authority on medical matters while the father may have decision-making authority on educational matters.
Visitation in New York
Visitation is a non-custodial parent’s right to spend certain time with the subject child or children, often pursuant to a schedule established by way of agreement or court order. Visitation is sometimes referred to a “parenting time.”
Custody Terminology in New York – Sole Custody, Joint Custody, Split Custody, Nesting Arrangements and 50 / 50 Custody
The terms sole custody, joint custody and split custody are frequently used in family court and divorce litigation. Additionally, they are frequently used incorrectly so it is essential that parties know exactly what each term means.
- Split custody occurs when the parties have multiple children and one or more of the children live with each parent. For example, Parent A has physical custody of one or more of the children while Parent B has physical custody of one or more of the children. Split custody is heavily disfavored in New York.
- “Nesting” arrangements are also growing increasingly common. Under such an arrangement, the children continue to reside in the family home uninterrupted and each of the parents vacates the home on a rotating basis. Such arrangement is designed and intended to ensure parity and establish amounts of time wherein each party shall be free to enjoy the home and provide their individual care for the children without involvement or interference by the other.
- Also increasingly common are so-called 50 / 50 custody arrangements where the children spend equal time with both parents. New York does not have a statutory presumption of 50/50 custody as the default custody arrangement. Instead, the state of New York uses the “best interests of the child” standard when determining custody arrangements. This means that custody decisions are made based on what the court believes is in the best interests of the child, and the court has the discretion to allocate custody and visitation time in a manner it deems appropriate, including a 50 / 50 award when appropriate.
Regardless of arrangements of sole custody, joint custody or split custody, the non-custodial parent retains the right to seek visitation with the child or children.
Modification of a Custody Order – Suffolk County Custody Modification Lawyer
In New York, a custody modification refers to a change in an existing custody order or agreement. After a court has issued a custody order, circumstances may change, and either parent may believe that a change in the custody arrangement is in the child’s best interests. In such cases, they can petition the court to modify the order. If the custody order resulted form a divorce, the modification can be brought by motion in the Supreme Court or by petition in the Family Court. If the most recent order was entered by the Family Court, then, generally, a modification is also brought in the Family Court.
In order to prevail on a custody modification application, it must be shown that there has been a “substantial change of circumstances” and that the best internets of the children warrant a change to the current arrangement. Common reasons for seeking custody modifications in New York may include concerns about a parent’s fitness, drug use, a change in a parent’s work schedule, relocation of one parent, changes in the child’s needs, or issues related to the child’s safety. Keep in mind that the specific legal procedures and requirements for custody modifications may vary depending on the individual circumstances and the court where the case is heard. Consulting with an experienced family law attorney in New York is advisable if you are considering a custody modification or facing one initiated by the other parent.
Factors in Determining Child Custody in New York
The standard of determination in a custody case is the “best interests of the child.” This is an intentionally broad standard that leaves the court with tremendous discretion, based on the totality of the circumstances. The Family Court Act and Domestic Relations Law list only domestic violence as a consideration in determining custody but subsequent case law provides additional factors including:
- Which parent is the primary caregiver?
- Which parent provides the child with more stability?
- Scheduling and availability for parenting.
- Drug abuse or alcohol abuse.
- Parental mental health issues, including antisocial personality disorder, narcissism, borderline personality disorder, etc.
- Physical health.
- Psychological bond between parent and child.
- Work schedules of the parents.
- Corercive control.
- Parental Alienation / false allegations by one parent against the other parent.
- The child’s preference (the amount of weight this is given increases with the age of the child).
- Willingness to foster a relationship between the child and the other parent.
- Involving the child in parental conflict.
- Abuse or neglect.
- Disregard for prior court orders.
Suffolk County Custody Lawyer
At the Law Office of Louis L. Sternberg, we understand the delicate nature of these issues and the emotional toll such disputes can have on our clients and their children. We understand that nothing is more important to mothers and fathers than their children, which is why we proudly serve as Suffolk County custody lawyers
We are committed to helping clients not only accomplish their goals but also do so in a way that protects their future relationships with their children. We take a personal approach to every case, offering tailor-made solutions to clients’ problems. These are important and complicated issues and it is always best to contact a Suffolk County custody lawyer.
How a Suffolk Custody Lawyer Can Help
A Suffolk custody lawyer, also known as a family law attorney, specializes in legal matters related to child custody and visitation rights in Suffolk County, New York, and throughout Long Island. Our lawyers can provide valuable assistance before, during and after litigation for clients dealing with child custody issues:
- Legal Advice: Even before litigation commences, our custody lawyers provide you with legal advice tailored to your specific situation. We explain your custody rights, responsibilities, and the applicable laws, helping you make informed decisions.
- Legal Representation: Our custody lawyers can represent you in court during custody hearings or negotiation sessions (sometimes referred to as a “fourway”) . We advocate for your rights and interests and those of your family, helping you navigate the legal process effectively.
- Custody Arrangement Recommendations: Based on our experience and knowledge of family law, our custody attorneys will offer recommendations for child custody arrangements most favorable to you and in your child’s best interests. We negotiate on your behalf with the other parent or their counsel to reach an amicable agreement or present a strong case in court if needed.
- Pleading and Document Preparation: Our custody team will draft all papers, pleadings and documents including petitions, motions, and parenting plans. Ensuring that these documents are properly drafted and filed is crucial to your case.
- Marshalling the Evidence: Our team works from the start to gather and present evidence to support your custody claims. This may include witness testimonies, financial records, and any other relevant information that can strengthen your case.
- Negotiation: Our Custody lawyers will engage in negotiations with the other parent or their legal representative to reach a mutually acceptable custody arrangement whenever possible. This can help avoid a lengthy and emotionally taxing court battle.
- In Court Representation: If your custody case cannot be resolved through negotiation, we will represent you in court. We have extensive litigation experience and are known throughout the courts of Suffolk County and Nassau County. We litigate your case from the first appearance onwards, including questioning witnesses, presenting evidence and arguing on your behalf to secure the best possible outcome.
- Modification and Enforcement: Our custody attorneys assist with modifying existing custody orders if circumstances change or enforce existing orders if the other parent is not complying with the terms.
- Protecting Your Custody Interests: Above all, as your Suffolk custody attorney, our primary goal is to advocate and ensure that your custody rights are protected. We ensure that your needs are met and convince the Court that the child’s best interests are served by our client being awarded custody.
Navigating child custody disputes can be emotionally challenging and legally complex. Hiring a qualified Suffolk custody lawyer can provide you with the legal expertise and support needed to make informed decisions and achieve a favorable outcome for your child custody case.
Suffolk Custody Lawyer Free Consultation
We proudly offer free consultations on custody cases including evening and weekend appointments to meet the needs of our clients. Your Suffolk County Custody lawyers are available by phone at (631) 600-3295 or through our intake form to set up an appointment for a consultation with a Suffolk County Child Custody Lawyer.
Frequently Asked Questions about Child Custody in Suffolk County
Are child custody cases separate from divorce? Are child custody cases heard in Suffolk County Family Court or Suffolk County Supreme Court?
If the parties are litigating a divorce action in Supreme Court, the court must determine matters of custody and parenting time. If the parties were never married, if the parties are married and neither has commenced a divorce or if either side is seeking a modification, a child custody case may be filed in Suffolk County Family Court.
What Rights Do Fathers Have in a Suffolk County Custody Case?
Fathers and mothers enjoy the same rights in all Family Court and divorce matters throughout New York State, after paternity is established. While many may disagree as to whether or not the parties are indeed treated equally by the courts, the law is clear that both parties share the same rights.
Does Custody Need to Be Established To Be Entitled to Child Support?
Generally, no – custody does not need to be established in order for a custodial parent (or de facto custodial parent) to be entitled to seek child support. Under the Court of Appeals case of Bast v. Rosoff, the “reality of the situation governs,” regardless of a legal determination as to custody, in considering parent’s entitlement to support.
What Happens If Parents Cannot Agree on Custody Schedule?
When the parents do not agree on a custody schedule, the Court will make a determination as to each party’s rights, responsibilities and their respective parenting time. Generally, this requires a trial where each party will be represented by a custody lawyer. The child or children may need to meet with the Judge at the conclusion of the case.
In New York, At What Age Can a Child Decide Which Parent to Live With?
There is a common misconception that a child can decide which parent they will live with when the child reaches age 12. This is false. Once a child reaches age 18, that child can decide with which parent he or she will reside. Prior to turning age 18, the child’s wishes do not control and, instead, the Courts may be guided by such wishes, giving varying weight to the child’s positions based on the age and maturity of the child.
What is an AFC or Attorney for the Children?
In a New York custody case, an “AFC” stands for “Attorney for the Child.” Previously, this role was often referred to as a “Law Guardian.” An AFC is an attorney appointed by the court to represent the child or children involved in the custody or visitation dispute. Depending on the age and maturity level of the child, the AFC may explicitly advocate for the wishes of the child or “substitute judgment” and advocate based on the AFC’s personal beliefs. It’s worth noting that the presence of an AFC can add another layer to the custody proceedings, as their recommendations or insights can significantly influence the court’s decisions. Parents involved in custody disputes should be aware of the AFC’s role and consider it when developing their legal strategy.
What is OurFamilyWizard?
OurFamilyWizard (OFW) is a web platform and mobile application designed specifically for co-parents to help them manage and organize shared parenting responsibilities. It has been frequently utilized by separated, divorced, or never-married parents as well as by family law professionals to facilitate better communication and organization between co-parents. OFW is frequently used in Suffolk County custody litigation and this office frequently recommends it to litigants.
What is Alienation in a New York custody case?
In the context of New York custody cases, “alienation” typically refers to “parental alienation.” Parental alienation involves the psychological manipulation of a child by one parent, causing the child to show unwarranted fear, disrespect, or hostility towards the other parent. It’s a controversial and complex issue that can deeply affect custody determinations and the overall well-being of the child. It has regularly been held that “Parental alienation of a child from the other parent is ‘an act so inconsistent with the best interests of the children as to, per se, raise a strong probability that the [offending party] is unfit to act as custodial parent’.”