In New York, it is always preferable for the participants in a child custody case to agree on how custody and visitation will be allocated. However, with family law and divorce, it is rarely simple to reach an agreement. Oftentimes, individuals will have their own reasons for wanting custody or seeking certain concessions with visitation rights. This is true whether the dissolution is amicable or contentious. Having legal assistance can be critical toward understanding the various aspects of a child custody and visitation hearing, and ensuring that your and your child’s best interests are protected.

At a child custody hearing, there will naturally be a judge. The judge decides on custody and visitation with a focus on the child’s best interests. Witnesses, who are called by the parents, can testify about information that may be pertinent to determining what sort of arrangement will support the child’s best interests. Relatives and others who know the situation can also provide input as witnesses. If it is necessary, the child might have a caseworker or some other official or medical professional provide a report to the court about the parents.

In some cases, the child could have a lawyer of his or her own. The judge will generally appoint the lawyer to speak to the child privately, and he or she will then tell the judge of the child’s wishes. A guardian ad litem (GAL) can be named for the child as someone who investigates and gives a report to the judge, too. The GAL will often be asked to give recommendations as to the child’s best interests.

Once the judge has gathered all the necessary information and feels like a fair decision can be made, an order will be given regarding custody and visitation. As always, the child’s best interests are paramount and take precedence over what the parents want. Despite the judge making the decision based on what is believed to be best for the child, the parents must also remember that their goals can be met by presenting a solid case and giving a reasoned argument. For that, having legal assistance experienced with all aspects of family law and divorce – especially child custody and visitation – can help.