Modification of a Custody Order: Part 4 – Best Interests Analysis and Totality of Circumstances
Upon finding a change of circumstances a judge is required to determine what custodial arrangement would promote the best interests of the child. This may or may not require a change of custody or a change to the parenting schedule.
The primary focus of a custody determination is ascertaining what is in the best interests of the child, and what will best promote the child’s welfare. A best interests analysis generally involves the examination of several factors, including the relative fitness, stability, past performance, and home environment of the parents, as well as their ability to guide and nurture the child and foster a relationship with the other parent. After reviewing these factors, the court must consider the totality of the circumstances and place appropriate weight on each factor considered.
For example, in one recent case the court considered a constellation of factors including the parties’ ability to meet the needs of the children, the parties’ behavior, the ability and desire to foster a relationship with the other parent. Ultimately the court awarded custody to the father weighing the totality of these circumstances and concluding that the father had a “manifested a markedly greater ability to isolate his disputes with the mother without involving or impacting the children.” Greene v. Robarge, 104 A.D.3d 1073.
There is no empirical formula to a totality of circumstances analysis. It is in the discretion of the judge to determine how much weight to give each factor. The law merely gives insight into which factors should be considered. How to apply them and what to do based upon this analysis does not follow hard and fast rules.
Over the course of the next few posts we will review and discuss a number of these factors and circumstances that a court will consider.