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Columbia, Schoharie, Ulster, Delaware, and Greene County New York Family Court Lawyer for Child Custody

Seeking custody of your child is a complicated process that requires the skill of an experienced New York child custody lawyer. 

Custody refers to the rights of parents to their minor children, including the right to have their minor children live in the same household with them and the right to make all decisions regarding their children's education, health, and overall well-being.

The first of these is referred to as physical or residential custody, while the second is called legal custody.  Most custody agreements or family court orders address both rights and determine separately the issues of whether the parents have joint physical custody or whether one parent has primary custody.

A family court custody order will rarely order joint physical custody.  One parent will almost always be determined to have primary physical custody, even if the other parent is with the child 49.99% of the time.  This issue is related to the determination of which parent is the recipient of child support from the other. Nevertheless, joint physical custody may be obtained in lieu of a family court order where there is a custody agreement providing for such between the parties.  NY custody lawyer Heidi Cochrane provides the experience necessary to advise you of the best approach for your needs and the sometimes complicated interaction between custody arrangements and child support.

When one parent is awarded sole legal custody by the family court, the other parent is then bound by law to comply with the parenting rules and decisions of the custodial parent. Where parents are awarded joint legal custody by the family court, which is usually the case, they then have equal say in crucial decisions regarding the upbringing, education; and health treatment of the child.

When one parent is awarded primary custody of a child by a family court judge, the rights of the other parent to the child are not terminated. Absent a determination by the family court that visitation with that parent would be harmful to the child, noncustodial parents retain their visitation rights. In some cases, a noncustodial parent may even seek to gain primary custody at a later date if there is a substantial change in circumstances, such as a family court's determination of the custodial parent's inability to meet the physical or emotional needs of the child. 

Custody in New York may be determined either by a custody agreement entered into by the parents and approved by the family court or a custody judgment that has been ordered by a family court judge. In both cases, the rights of each parent to any minor children are established by the family court and it is clear what proportion of time the children will live with each parent, and which parent (if not both) makes the decisions with regard to the children's:

  • residence

  • education

  • child care

  • health care

  • discipline

  • religion

  • sports

  • summer camps; and

  • even friends

The custody agreement or New York family court judgment will also specify when the children will be with each parent and may also spell out any restrictions or conditions placed on the parent while he or she is caring for the children, as well how the responsibility for transporting the children is to be proportioned. Where no agreement can be reached, experienced NY family court lawyer Heidi Cochrane rigorously presents the facts most favorable to her client and the attorney for the child, whose position frequently plays an important role in the judge's decision-making process.

In determining custody, the NY family court judge is bound to consider the best interests of the child, which is determined by considering a number of factors. These include each parent's parenting ability, particularly as it applies to his or her ability to meet a child's emotional and physical needs. Where a parent has a diagnosed mental illness, abuses drugs or alcohol, has been neglectful of the children, has abandoned the children, or has attempted to alienate or withhold the children from the other parent, custody can be more difficult to obtain.

The family court judge will also consider the quality of the relationship between each parent and child, as well as a child's preference. The weight of any stated preference by the child will depend on the child's age and maturity, as well as whether or not it is given freely and free from coercion by either parent. The family court judges also place weight on maintaining the stability of a child's environment and are reluctant to separate siblings unless warranted by unusual circumstances.

New York custody courts have emphasized the importance of the parent-child relationship by establishing that unless visitation with the child by the noncustodial parent is shown to be harmful, visitation must be provided for in any initial child custody determination.

Where parents live within a reasonable distance of one another, custody courts generally promote regular and frequent visitation, provided it does not interrupt the schooling of the child. Where parents live further apart, the court may order visitation on weekends only or, in the case of parents who live at a significant distance from one another, on school holidays and vacations. As in the case with child custody, a child's desires may also be considered by the family court judge when determining visitation, but will not in themselves be determinative.

Columbia, Delaware, Schoharie, Ulster, and Greene Child Support Lawyer

Under the New York State Child Support Standards Act (1989), both parents are responsible for contributing financially to the needs of their children.  Under federal law, the parent with primary custody has the right to receive child support payments from the noncustodial parent--even if he or she has only 51% custody. Furthermore, in joint-custody cases, a parent who lacks the ability to provide for the child financially may still be entitled to child support from the other parent.

A parent's basic NY child support obligation is determined by the family court judge according to the following formula:

  • Each parent's net income is calculated (their gross income less Social Security and local tax only; federal and state taxes may not be deducted)

  • Taxes, alimony payments to a previous spouse, and previously determined child support payments are deducted from that parent's income

  • The net incomes of the two parents are combined up to$130,000. If the combined income exceeds $130,000, the court has the discretion to consider or not consider it.

  • The combined income is multiplied by 17 percent for one child, 25 percent for two children, 29 percent for three children, 31 percent for four children, and 35 percent for five or more children.

The final amount of child support is then prorated between the parents, based on their income. The noncustodial parent must pay his or her portion of child support to the custodial parent, while the custodial parent is presumed to be paying his or her share of child support while caring for the child. The noncustodial parent's obligation is not prorated depending on the amount of time he or she cares for the child.

Parents may agree to opt out of the basic child support formula applied by the family court only by signing a legal agreement which includes a provision stating that they have been fully advised of the New York State Child Support Standards Act. If the parents have not previously opted out, they may seek a modification of their child support family court order after 3 years, when there is a 15% change in the gross income of either party since the most recent child support order, or if either party experiences a significant change in circumstances.

Whether you are a custodial or noncustodial parent, contact Columbia, Ulster, Delaware, Schoharie, Albany, or Greene County child support lawyer Heidi Cochrane for compassionate and zealous legal representation for your New York child custody, visitation, or child support matter.

The Rights of Children in New York State Family Court Matters

In any custody dispute, it is important to be sensitive to the rights of the children involved. As expressed by New York State Justice James Brands (Duchess County Family Court, New York) and Justice Ira Harkavy (Supreme Court, Kings County, New York) in the "Bill of Rights for Children Whose Parents Are Divorced or Separated," children have:

  • The right not to be asked to "choose sides" between their parents.

  • The right not to be told the details of bitter or nasty legal proceedings going on between their parents.

  • The right not to be told "bad things" about the other parent's personality or character.

  • The right to privacy when talking to either parent on the phone.

  • The right not to be cross-examined by one parent after spending time with the other parent.

  • The right not to be asked to be a messenger from one parent to the other.

  • The right not to be asked by one parent to tell the other parent untruths.

  • The right not to be used as a confidant regarding the legal proceedings between the parents.

  • The right to express feelings, whatever feelings those may be.

  • The right to choose not to express certain feelings.

  • The right to be protected from parental warfare.

  • The right not to be made to feel guilty for loving both parent.

Heidi T. Cochrane is an experienced Columbia County, Schoharie County, Delaware County, Ulster County, and Greene County New York family court lawyer for child custody and child support matters throughout the Catskills and the Hudson Valley in towns and cities including: Ashland, Athens, Athens, Cairo, Catskill, Coxsackie, Durham, Greenville, Halcott, Hunter, Jefferson Heights, Jewett, Leeds, Lexington, New Baltimore, Palenville, Prattsville, Tannersville, Windham, Ancram, Austerlitz, Canaan, Chatham, Claverack, Clermont, Copake Lake, Copake, Gallatin, Germantown, Ghent, Greenport, Hillsdale, Hudson, Kinderhook, Livingston, Lorenz Park, New Lebanon, Niverville, Philmont, Stockport, Stottville, Stuyvesant, Taghkanic, Valatie, Denning, Ellenville, Esopus, Gardiner, Hardenburgh, Hurley, Kingston, Katrine, Lloyd, Marbletown, Marlborough, Milton, New Paltz, Olive, Plattekill, Rochester, Rosendale, Saugerties, Shandaken, Shawangunk, Ulster, Wawarsing, Woodstock, Andes, Bovina, Colchester, Davenport, Delhi, Deposit, Downsville, Fleischmanns, Franklin, Hamden, Hancock, Harpersfield, Hobart, Kortright, Margaretville, Masonville, Meredith, Middletown, Roxbury, Sidney, Stamford, Tompkins, Walton, Blenheim, Broome, Carlisle, Cobleskill, Conesville, Esperance, Fulton, Gilboa, Jefferson, Seward, Sharon, Summit, Wright, Middleburgh, Richmondville, Schoharie, and Sharon Springs.

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