Child custody cases in the state of New York are all handled by the Family Court system. This is a unique and often challenging area of the law that relies far more heavily on case law and the subjective interpretation of judges than other areas. Because a good child custody lawyer will have both the experience and deep knowledge of relevant precedential cases, the value that can be added to your efforts to seek child custody by the right attorney can be game-changing.
In the Family Courts, the statutory laws, such as the Domestic Relations Laws, that govern the proceedings are unusually sparse. This means that a good lawyer will be intimately familiar with the case laws that have set the body of precedents that guide the outcomes of Family Court proceedings. The ability to harness this knowledge and apply it on behalf of a client so that their objectives can be achieved is a skill only won by participating in hundreds of cases. For this reason, you want a lawyer that specializes in Family Court law, in general, and child custody cases, in particular.
In child custody cases, every detail counts
The main way in which child custody cases differ from all other areas of the law is that the court is, rather than attempting to establish the facts of past events, as in a criminal trial, attempting to establish the likelihood of future actions by one or more of the parties to the case. This means that the ways in which Family Court judges arrive at their decisions in child custody cases are dramatically different from the processes used in criminal or civil trials.
For example, in child custody hearings, the forensic evaluator, a state-employed investigator who often meets with the child, parents and acquaintances and even goes to the family domicile to observe the natural interactions between parent and child, can hold tremendous sway over the outcome of the case. A good report from the forensic evaluator can easily make the difference between custody being granted or not. And a bad report will often result in the judge denying custody to the parent who was the subject of the negative report.
Another area that can have a large impact on child custody proceedings is the introduction by a paid psychologist or other expert witness of past patterns of behavior of one of the parents. One of the worst possible things that can happen in family court is for a credible witness to testify that they believe the parent seeking custody will pose a serious risk of future neglect or abuse. Although these witnesses are supposed to be impartial and objective, a clever lawyer for the opposing side can easily orchestrate such testimony, which can prove devastating. This is another area in which an expert attorney can help prevent the hearings taking a turn for the worse. Carefully controlling the flow of evidence and testimony is one of the things that a good child custody lawyer is expert at doing.
But not all moves in a child custody hearing need to be defensive in nature. A good lawyer can help uncover and use to your advantage any defects or faults that may exist with the opposing parent. For example, any episodes of serious mental illness or drug and alcohol dependence can play a major role in determining the outcome of hearings.
Likewise, any behavior, almost no matter how small, that indicates a risk for abuse or neglect on the part of the opposing parent can be turned to your decisive advantage. These are all areas in which a good lawyer can raise doubt and, ultimately, win custody cases.