The public's perception of the family court system in the U.S. is that it is heavily skewed in favor of mothers over fathers. Traditionally, it is true that mothers were given a custody preference, especially for young children. That is no longer the case. In New York, as in all states, child custody is determined by what is in the best interests of the child. The state gives preference to parents over non-parents when determining custody, but no preference between mothers and fathers.
The "best interests of the child" standard is purposefully broad, in order that a court can use any number of relevant facts to determine child custody and visitation. New York has created laws that specifically mention factors for a court to consider, but a family law judge is free to take anything relevant into consideration when determining custody. The law specifically mentions the relationship of the child to each parent, the health of the parents, and if there is a history of domestic or substance abuse by either parent as relevant to determining custody. The ultimate goal of the parenting plan is for the child to have a stable and healthy environment in which to grow.
Co-parenting and "visitation"
There are two aspects of custody in New York, physical and legal custody. The parent with physical custody is the parent with whom the child lives for the majority of the year. This parent is the custodial parent. The non-custodial parent may live with the child also, but will have less time with the child than the custodial parent. Noncustodial parents may receive "visitation" for their child. However, unless it is not in the best interests of the child, courts look favorably on co-parenting, meaning that both parents are seen as custodial parents. The child will then spend significant time with both parents. If co-parenting is an option, it helps if both parents live relatively near each other, for example in the same school district, in order to minimize complications.
New York law also favors joint legal custody. Joint legal custody means that both parents have decision-making ability in the raising of the child. This could include religious upbringing and school choice, for example.
Both parents have rights
According to Professor Mary Ann Mason of Berkeley Law School, over the last three decades the biggest trend for family law courts is for "friendly parents" who are able to put aside differences for the benefit of children. A failure to work with the other parent, regardless of gender, can ultimately harm a parent's chances of obtaining custody.
Because child custody matters are highly dependent on individual circumstances, New York parents concerned about child custody should contact an experienced New York family law firm to discuss their legal options.