While some people may assume that family law judges favor the mother in child custody cases, judges in the state of New York are expected to make decisions regarding child custody based on the best interests of the child. In making such a determination, judges may consider the parents' work schedules and child care plans but may also take other factors into account. Some factors that are relevant in determining which parent should have child custody include the parents' respective states of health, the child's relationship with other family members and which parent has been the main emotional provider for the child.
A judge may consider whether two parents have had any domestic violence between them, even if the parents' children never witnessed any of the alleged violence. For this purpose, domestic violence may also include verbal or emotional abuse.
Even if one parent is granted sole physical custody of a child, the other parent may still be granted joint legal custody, meaning that both parents would be required to share equally in making major decisions that affect the child, such as decisions pertaining to the child's education, health and religion. Parents who do not obtain shared physical custody may still be granted visitation, since courts are generally inclined to ensure that both parents remain involved in their child's life.
A forensic evaluator may be utilized to help a judge establish a custody or visitation plan. Forensic evaluators may be psychiatrists, psychologists or social workers, and they are chosen by the court to interact with the parents and with the children. If a parent cannot afford an attorney, the court may appoint one free of charge. Parents who do not qualify for free assistance and parents who want additional guidance may want to speak with a family law attorney.
Source: nycourts.gov, "Frequently Asked Questions Child Custody/Visitation", August 07, 2014