The New York State child custody courts are a maze of complex, precedent-setting case law and the own personal judgement of various judges, law guardians and professional forensic evaluators. This makes the Family Court system one of the most difficult to navigate for non-professionals, even as it is purportedly meant to be family friendly.
If you are involved in a child custody dispute in the state of New York and have exhausted all means of potentially solving the situation amicably, you need the guidance and expertise of a skilled lawyer who specializes in child custody cases. Without the knowledge and experience to navigate your way through the byzantine Family Court system, you stand little chance of getting your desired outcome.
Most attorneys who practice in the Family Courts do so as a specialty. There is good reason for this. Family Court law, in general, and child custody law, in particular, are unique in that they are not closely defined by statutory law. Instead, the Family Courts rely on a vast body of often confusing case law that has set precedents for what the legal principles and the guidelines for judicial action are. Without a strong knowledge of this case law, it is nearly impossible to successfully navigate the Family Courts because it becomes impossible to know what to expect from any motion, action or hearing.
For example, the case Bennet v. Jeffreys is a major precdential case for the Family Court system, in which it was found that the present caretaker had custodial rights that superseded even those of the biological mother. This case illustrates that where two conflicting doctrines of the Family Court system intersect, namely the biological parents always being assumed to have default custodianship and the status quo of guardianship always being preferred to be maintained, one clearly wins out. Yet, without understanding the nuances of this case, it would not be possible to understand when and how these two doctrines resolve when they come into conflict with each other. This is just one example of the thousands of such cases on which family law in the state of New York has been established.
Some people make the mistake of not taking Family Court proceedings seriously. This is a terrible mistake. Family Court has the power to make determinations that will last until the child involved reaches the age of consent. In New York, that age is 18.
This means that the Family Court routinely makes decisions that will effect the lives of parents and children for periods of longer than a decade. On top of that, Family Court rulings are typically considered final. Although it is technically possible to appeal a Family Court ruling, in practice, appellate courts almost never overturn Family Court rulings. This means that if you happen to skip a court date, you may receive an unappealable default judgment that will affect you and your child for as long as 18 years.
One of the things that a good child custody lawyer can help you do is to put your best foot forward at all times in the child custody process. Even little, seemingly insignificant things can go a long way. For example, we have seen cases where one parent showed up to court disheveled and in a bad mood. This led directly to their loss of child custody, as the judge ruled that they well-kept and polite non-custodial parent was more fit.