Guide To NY Family Law By Family Law Atorney

nycchildsupport lawyer paul matthews

I am an experienced New York family lawyer, child custody lawyer, and child support lawyer located in New York City. I am not taking new cases at this time, and do not expect to be taking new cases for the foreseeable future, however I have transformed this website into what I feel is a helpful guide for pro se litigants as well as other attorneys.

After graduating Summa Cum Laude (highest honors) from law school, I opened my family law firm in downtown Manhattan in 1996. To date I have tried well over 500 cases. The majority of these cases have been child custody , visitation, or child support  cases. I have also successfully filed over a hundred uncontested divorce cases, and has tried cases against some of the most well known and prominent divorce attorneys and child custody lawyers in New York City.

Family Lawyer With Over 500 Child Custody Trials In New York City Family Court

mother with daughter during custody case

. This website covers all of the following topics, and may, in the future cover other related Family Law topics.

  • Uncontested Divorce
  • Child support
  • Child custody
  • Guardianship
  • Visitation rights
  • Paternity
  • Orders of protection (domestic violence cases)
  • Adoption
  • Family Court appeals


Child Custody And Visitation Hearings In NYC

If you are a parent facing a contested child custody case, you may be in for the most important case of your life, whether you are a husband or wife, mom or dad, or even a guardian who is not a parent.  You may have serious concerns about the fitness of the other parent, or you may just be confused about the legal process. Therefore, in addition to doing your own reading and reseaarcch, you should look for a family law attorney who has extensive experience and has done many New York child custody trials.

Child custody matters are different from most other cases in that the scope of child custody issues and facts tends to be extremely broad. In custody cases, the scope of relevance, and hence the scope of the child custody hearing  can include the entire life history of both parties, any evidence pertaining to the character and fitness of each of the parties, and any evidence pertaining to the safety and well-being of the child or children.

It is usually better to come to a fair agreement or settlement with the other parent, if possible. If your relationship with the other party is still fairly amicable, you may be able to find an affordable family law attorney with a divorce and custody mediation practice, who might be able to come up with a parenting agreement that resolves child custody and visitation issues in a way that works for you.

In divorce cases, it is sometimes possible to come up with an agreement and get divorced without ever having to go to court.

If you choose mediation and there is a proposed parenting agreement, you will still need your own child custody lawyer to look over the paperwork for the proposed agreement and give you advice as to your rights under New York state law.

If a child custody proceeding has to be tried, the court may appoint a neutral child psychologist to do an evaluation and written report with recommendations about who should have custody, as well as a visitation schedule for the non-custodial parent.

Dealing with direct and cross examination mental health professionals or other expert witnesses requires a high level of knowledge, experience, and advocacy by experienced family law attorneys.

New York Custody Laws You Need To Know For Negotiation

New York child custody law is relatively straightforward. For initial cases between parents, the legal standard is “best interests” of the child or children. However, this standard is extremely broad and encompasses anything that has to do with the child’s health, safety, needs, and welfare.

If the case involves a parent against a non-parent (including grandparents and other family members) , the non-parent has to show the existence of so-called “exceptional circumstances” in order to prevail. Examples of exceptional circumstances include a parent’s drug use, alcohol abuse, serious mental illness, abuse or neglect of children, being the perpetrator of domestic violence in the household, or having a poor or unhealthy relationship with the child or children.

If the case is between parents and involves modifications of a previous custody order, the party seeking to modify has the burden of proving to the court that a “substantial change of circumstances” exists since the date of the previous order. New York courts favor stability in custody arrangements, so custody modifications that involve actual changes of physical custody can sometimes be difficult to obtain.

Custody Relocation Cases (Legal Standards)

The U.S. has been a highly mobile country for some time. While the legal standard for relocation cases is governed by the case of Tropea v. Tropea, that case and its progeny cases really just refine the best interests standard, with an emphasis on certain factors.

The easiest relocation cases to win for the custodial parent involve situations where the custodial parent moves out of state to get away from domestic violence and/ or where the non-custodial parent is not paying child support, causing economic difficulties that impact the well-being of the child or children.

What Does Joint Legal Custody Mean In New York?

happy father with daughter after being awarded joint custody

If you are the victim of domestic violence or other harassment or abuse by your spouse or former partner, you should think long and hard about agreeing to joint legal custody.

The term “joint legal custody” has different meanings in different states, and is often misunderstood or confused with something called “shared custody”. In New York State, legal custody refers to who has the power to make decisions regarding the child or children.

Many custody cases are resolved with an order of “joint legal custody”, which requires both parents to consult with one another about major decisions but where the parent with physical custody has the final decision making authority on any issue where the parents cannot agree. This arrangement is very different from true joint legal custody where both parents must agree as to any major decisions.

In NY, legal custody or joint legal custody does not have anything to do with the amount of child support.

It is extremely rare for a judge to order joint custody over the objection of either party, and almost never when there is a lot of conflict between spouses or parents, although agreements for joint custody are common where the mother and father get along well with only occasional minor disputes.

Visitation Cases In New York

The New York courts have been replacing the term “visitation” with “parenting time” or “access time”. The law in New York is very clear that visitation is a right that each parent has, and also that children also have a right to visitation. This is one of the reasons why, in custody and visitation cases, “older” kids are often assigned their own attorneys by the court. If you have more than one child, your son may even be assigned his own attorney, and your daughter may be assigned her own attorney.

Visitation cases are sometimes as long, drawn out, and contentious as custody cases, and can involve testimony of multiple witnesses, including expert witnesses, and can sometimes even involve forensic custody evaluations. This underscores the importance of having representation by an experienced child custody lawyer.  In general, the more difficult and complicated your case is, the more likely it is that the quality of representation may affect the final outcome. 

An experienced family law attorney will also know how to protect the record for appeal, because , if there is a hearing, the loser and sometimes even the winner may have the ability to challenge the final order in the appellate courts. If you have already had a hearing and have lost your case, you will likely need  an appellate lawyer who has done many custody cases. Appellate litigation, like child custody law, is its own specialty. 

The Importance Of Domestic Violence

New York State is a leader in protecting victims of domestic violence, and divorce courts and family courts are required to consider proven instances of domestic violence in making custody or visitation orders. This is why the existence of a current or past orders of protection is considered important for custody or visitation issues.

When deciding which of the parents will have physical or residential custody of the child or children, the court will usually give great weight to proven incidents of domestic violence.