Get help with teen custody disputes.When a marriage comes to an end, one of the most important elements decided during the divorce process involves the living arrangements for children. The situation can easily become complicated or even adversarial when you and your former spouse no longer share a home but have kids to raise. Here’s what our New York divorce attorney advises you to know if you are facing the divorce process in New York and have a teenage child.

Teenage Child Custody Decisions During a Divorce

Divorce courts in New York tend to be inclined towards maintaining the status quo. That’s particularly true in situations where the divorcing parties already live apart and the children have stayed with one parent or the other for an extended duration. 

The judge may not always keep the current situation as-is, however, and could order a completely different arrangement. That’s especially true if there are significant problems at one home or a teenage child has a strong preference for living with the other parent. During a contested divorce when parents can’t come to an agreement on their own, the court specifically takes into account issues like:

  • The child’s age. The wishes of older teens tend to hold more weight with courts over a 10-year-old for instance, on the basis that younger children may not be able to accurately assess their own best interests.
  • Consistency and stability. Judges often want to avoid situations where children miss any school and typically prefer to keep them in the same school, social groups, and sports programs they are already involved with, if at all possible. 
  • Keeping brothers and sisters together. In many cases, judges deciding on custody issues prefer that siblings remain in the same home unless there is some compelling reason why they should have different custody arrangements, such as if one child has special needs.
  • Overall quality of living. The overall stability of the home situation is also taken into account, such as the type of neighborhood where the parent lives, their finances, and any parental history of criminal activity or drug and alcohol abuse. 

The Importance of Consulting a New York Divorce Attorney If You Have Teen Children

Teenagers don’t typically provide testimony about their wishes directly in court, which can be traumatizing and cause problems with parents. Instead, your children will likely be questioned by the judge in a taped interview where neither parent is present. A law guardian appointed by the court will remain in the room during the interview to advocate on your child’s behalf.

There isn’t a hard and fast rule as to when a child of a specific age will have their wishes taken into account more than a kid that is a year or two younger. That’s why it is important to properly prepare your child for what’s to come by having an attorney explain the process, as well as offer advice on ensuring your voice is adequately heard by the court. Custody arrangements are up to the discretion of the judge, which is why it's crucial to consult an experienced child custody lawyer before making your case in court. 

You are required to abide by the court’s custody order, even if a willful teenage child doesn’t want to, which can put you in a difficult legal situation. An attorney comes in handy if your teenager refuses to follow the custody agreement and you need to petition the court for changes. 

Any arrangement for custody decided between parents or set by the court ends on the child’s 18th birthday. From that date forward, the judge’s decision no longer applies and the child can live where they prefer. Until that point, however, an attorney can help you gather and present the evidence to protect your legal rights and ensure you and your child’s wishes are properly considered.

Ted Alatsas
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Trusted Brooklyn, New York Family Law Attorney helping NY residents with Elder Law and Asset Protection