New York law encourages parents to resolve child custody and parenting time issues amicably and in the best interests of the children. As a result, regardless of the other disputes you may be having with your (ex)spouse, it is important to find common ground when it comes to your children. When one parent is granted primary custody, the other parent is given liberal parenting time or visitation so as to maintain the parent-child relationship. Absent abuse or neglect, New York courts want both parents to have time with their children. Thus, the matter will need to be resolved either by the parents or by a court.
When disputes arise, several general guidelines can help resolve parenting time issues:
What is in the best interests of the child? This is the paramount concern. New York courts decide visitation based on what is in the best interests of the child taking into account the past history of the family and what each parent wants post-separation/divorce. Parents should set aside their differences and follow the same rule in coming to their own agreement.
How much time did each parent spend with children prior to the parents’ separation? Courts look at the family history. As a result, parents should try to mimic the schedule that may have existed previously in the home, such as continuing a parent’s participation in certain activities of the child. Generally, drastic changes should be avoided.
Does one parent want more time with children than he/she had previously? It is common for one parent to be busy working and spend less time with children or perhaps avoiding being at home because of family tension. However, after separation and divorce, he/she may want to have more parenting time in order to build a closer relationship as the non-custodial parent – something which the courts promote.
What is the relationship between each parent and each child? Depending on the age of the children, their wishes may be an important factor.
What is each parent’s work schedule? In some cases, one parent may be able to remain a stay at home parent for some limited period of time. However, more often, both parents are working or are expected to return to the workforce, or attend school or job training after divorce. This may be a significant change for both parents and children. Nonetheless, parents need to consider how they will share responsibilities related to children, such as taking them to extracurricular activities, doctor’s appointments and the like. If one parent has a more flexible schedule, that should be kept in mind in allocating parenting time.
How can changes be made gradually? Parents should remain in the same area and maintain the same lifestyle, activities and time spent with children. However, if changes become necessary, they should be gradually implemented to the extent possible in the best interests of the children. Notwithstanding this rule, parenting time schedules should be reviewed periodically to ensure they continue to meet the needs of all parties.
While parents may find themselves fighting over time spent with children, settling their issues is the best solution. If parents cannot come to an agreement, the judge may appoint an attorney for the child to represent him or her in the child custody and support aspect of the divorce, and a forensic psychologist or mental health professional to evaluate the situation. The attorney for the child will be working directly with your child to ensure his or her desires are expressed independently of the parents in court. The psychologist will conduct extensive interviews and collect and analyze information to provide to the judge who will make the ultimate decision. The end result is a time-consuming, expensive process that will typically result in some award of parenting time anyway absent abuse or neglect.
If you are a parent considering divorce or already divorced and fighting with your spouse over custody or visitation, it is important to speak with a qualified attorney. Contact us today to discuss how we can help you find the best resolution of your divorce and custody issues.