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Child Custody Modification in New York

Even thought child custody matters are often settled in a final decree of divorce or some other court order, in reality child custody orders are not at all final. Over the course of time after the initial order, circumstances may change that would call for a change in the custody arrangement. In some cases the parents agree that a change is in order and work out the details privately. In other cases one parent wants a change while the other is satisfied with the status quo. Regardless of what the parents want, ultimately the court will look at what is in the best interests of the child when making a decision on a petition to modify a custody arrangement. If you are in need of a family lawyer because you are concerned about potential changes to your custody arrangement it is important that you contact an experienced New York child custody modification lawyer who will explain to you your legal options, and who can also help you with other child custody matters such as child support.

Child custody in New York

In New York there are only a few types of child custody arrangements: sole custody, joint custody, and shared custody. If one parent has sole custody, the other parent may be awarded visitation. In sole custody cases where there is evidence of abuse or neglect on the part of the non-custodial parent, the court may decided not to award the non-custodial visitation or to award supervised visitation.

When making custody and visitation decisions the court will consider a number of different factors to determine the best interests of the child, including:

  • Which parent has been the child’s primary caretaker
  • The work schedule of each parent
  • The home environment of each parent
  • The parenting skills of each parent
  • The ability of each parent to provide for the child’s special needs, if any
  • The mental and physical health of the parents, including whether either parent has a history of alcohol or drug abuse
  • Whether there has been domestic violence in the family
  • The child’s preference
  • The ability or willingness of each parent to encourage a relationship with the other parent
  • Where the child’s siblings live
Modifying a custody arrangement

In order to change a custody order, you must ask the court by filing a Petition for Modification of an Order of Custody/Visitation. A court will not disturb a custody arrangement unless there has been a substantial change in circumstances, such as a geographic change or a change in lifestyle.

  • Geographic change. If one parent moves out of the area, a change in custody or visitation may be appropriate in order to cause as little disruption in the child’s life as possible. For example, if the custodial parent is planning to leave the area and the court feels that it is in the best interests of the child to stay in the area, the court may change the custody agreement. In such a case the court my give the parent who is staying in the area physical custody and give the other parent visitation.
  • Lifestyle change. Lifestyle changes such as a change in work schedule of a parent, or a parent developing a substance abuse problem may be a reason for a custody modification.

While there may a number of factors that a court may consider when deciding whether or not to modify a custody order, ultimately the court will make a decision based on what is in the best interests of the child.


In the Matter of Madden v. Cavanaugh, 307 AD2d 266 (N.Y. App. Div., 2003), the father petitioned the court to request a modification of the child custody order. The Family Court dismissed his petition noting that the parent seeking a change in custody is not automatically entitled to a hearing. In order to get a hearing the parent must first make some evidentiary showing that a custody modification is warranted. In this case the court found that the father’s allegations were not sufficient to warrant a hearing to consider a change in custody.

Contact the Law Offices of Stephen Bilkis & Associates

If you feel that there has been a change in circumstances such that a change in child custody is warranted, or if the other parent of your child wants to change the visitation or custody arrangement, the staff at the Law Offices of Stephen Bilkis & Associates has the experience to provide you with the representation that you need. We have years of experience successfully representing clients who have custody, visitation, support and other family law issues. Contact us at 800.696.9529 to schedule a free, no obligation consultation regarding your case. We represent clients in the following locations: the Bronx, Brooklyn, Long Island, Manhattan, Nassau County, Queens, Staten Island, Suffolk County and Westchester County.

Client Reviews
My ex-husband hadn't paid child support or the mortgage on the house as he was supposed to. Stephen Bilkis and his team of lawyers were amazing. They stopped the foreclosure on the house, Got a judgment against him and most importantly kept me and my children in the house. Can't say enough good things about him in the firm their compassion hard work and dedication were exceptional. I.G.
From the very first phone call to Stephen Bilkis' office, the staff was extremely polite and helpful in assisting me. Mr. Bilkis was honest and upfront with me from the beginning in what he projected the outcome of my case would be; in the end we got better results than either of us anticipated. He was very genuine and compassionate in understanding my situation and how this legal matter could effect not only myself but my family as well. I highly recommend this law firm and will most definitely continue using them for any future legal needs. Jarrett
Stephen has handled numerous estate matters, criminal matters and family court matters effectively and with a goal-oriented approach. He gets great results and is a results-oriented attorney. Dustin