Navigating Child Custody Cases in Brooklyn, NY: A Guide for Parents
Going through a child custody case can be an incredibly emotional and stressful time for any parent. As a parent myself, I know that when it comes to your kids, you want what’s best for them. That’s why I wanted to write this guide for parents going through custody battles in Brooklyn – to help you understand the process, know your rights, and make the smartest choices for your family.
How Child Custody Works in Brooklyn
There’s a lot of confusion about how child custody works, so let’s break it down:
- Legal Custody: This means the right to make important decisions about your child’s health, education, religion, etc. This can be joint (shared) or sole (one parent).
- Physical Custody: This refers to where the child lives and spends their time. The parent with more overnights has primary physical custody.
- Visitation: This is the scheduled time the non-custodial parent spends with the child.
Custody can be decided between parents in an agreement, or by the court if you can’t agree. The court will look at what’s in the “best interests of the child.” Some factors considered are:
- Each parent’s ability to provide love, emotional support, and care
- The child’s emotional attachment to each parent
- Each parent’s ability to provide food, clothing, medical care, etc
- The child’s established routine, school, friends, etc.
- Each parent’s past parenting and their ability to cooperate and make joint decisions
- Any history of violence, drug/alcohol abuse, etc. by a parent
The court has a lot of discretion but generally wants the child to have frequent and continuing contact with both parents, if possible.
Finding the Right Brooklyn Child Custody Lawyer
Going through custody disputes without an attorney can be really tough, that’s why finding the right lawyer is so important. Look for these qualities:
- Experience with custody cases: Ask about their specific experience – how many cases have they handled, how often do they go to trial, what results have they gotten for clients? You want someone who regularly handles these cases.
- Compassionate and understanding: The lawyer should understand this is an emotional time and treat you with empathy. Family law requires emotional intelligence.
- Communicates clearly: They should explain the law and process to you in simple terms, take your calls/emails promptly, and keep you updated. You want an attorney who makes you feel heard and explains things well.
- Reasonable fees: Custody cases can get expensive with all the motions, affidavits, hearings, etc. Look for fair, upfront pricing and payment plans. Avoid lawyers who nickel-and-dime you.
- Good reputation: Check online reviews and talk to people in the legal community. A respected attorney can sometimes resolve cases more quickly.
Gathering Evidence for Your Custody Case
Your lawyer will help gather evidence to show why your custody/visitation plan is best. Useful evidence can include:
- Journals/calendars: Records showing your involvement in doctor appointments, school events, etc.
- Photos/videos: Images showing you engaged in activities with your child.
- School/medical records: Records showing your participation in your child’s care.
- Witness statements: Letters from teachers, doctors, family/friends speaking to your parenting.
- Financial records: Records showing you’ve provided for the child financially.
- Police reports: Any reports showing issues like domestic violence by the other parent.
- Home evaluations: A social worker can visit each parent’s home and evaluate the living situation.
- Psychological evaluations: A psychologist can evaluate each parent’s mental health and parenting capacity.
Your lawyer can help obtain useful evidence through discovery – documents exchanged between the parties. Evidence like text messages, social media posts, and emails can be very useful.
Negotiating an Agreement vs. Going to Court
Ideally, parents can reach an agreement on custody through mediation. Mediation is less adversarial, less expensive, and you retain control over the outcome.
However, sometimes mediation fails and you have to go to court. Contested custody hearings can take months or longer. The judge will hear arguments and evidence from each side and make a decision.
I recommend trying mediation first if possible. But if mediation fails, or the other parent is completely unreasonable, your attorney can advise you on the likelihood of success at a custody hearing.
If domestic violence is involved, be very cautious about mediation. Consult your attorney first in those cases. Safety of the child is paramount.
Creating a Parenting Plan
Whether reached through agreement or court order, the custody arrangement will be written up as a Parenting Plan. This is an incredibly detailed document including:
- Legal and physical custody arrangements
- A visitation schedule with exact days/times
- Holiday and vacation schedules
- Transportation details – who drives the child where
- How decisions will be made about health, school, activities, etc.
- How disputes between parents will be handled
- Any other issues particular to your family – like religion, education, etc.
Parenting Plans can be very long and detailed. Your lawyer can help craft a thorough plan that protects your rights as a parent. Ambiguity causes problems down the road, so work to make it very specific.
Modifying Custody Agreements
Custody orders can be modified if there’s a material change in circumstances. For example:
- One parent plans to relocate far away
- A parent gets married or divorced
- Someone loses their job and can no longer provide
- A teenager requests a change
- A parent develops issues with drugs/alcohol, mental illness, abuse, etc.
The parent seeking modification must prove the change warrants altering custody. The court still applies the “best interests of the child” standard.
If you need to modify custody, it’s critical to have an attorney to help present your case persuasively in court. Don’t try going it alone.
Enforcing Your Custody Rights
Unfortunately, violations of custody orders are common – the other parent doesn’t follow the schedule, makes unilateral decisions, etc.
If the other parent violates the order, document everything. Get a detailed journal noting every incident, keep emails/texts, etc. Then, your lawyer can file a contempt motion to enforce the order.
The court can impose sanctions like make-up visitation time, extra child support, or even jail time in extreme cases. Don’t let violations slide – enforce the order.
Conclusion – Prioritizing Your Child
Going through custody disputes is exhausting. But I always encourage parents to step back and make decisions based on what’s actually best for the child, not what you want or what’s fair. Kids need stability, love, and involvement from both parents whenever possible.
I hope this guide gives you a good overview of the custody process. Remember to choose your attorney carefully, follow their advice, stay calm under pressure, and keep the focus on your child. You’ve got this! Wishing you the absolute best outcome.