The laws regarding divorce and child custody are constantly changing in New York, and if you are involved in a divorce or child tutelage dispute, you should have the advice and services of an experienced Peekskill family law attorney. It’s not just the legislators in Albany who are constantly tinkering with divorce and child custody laws. Those laws have been changing and evolving since civilization began. In ancient Rome, for instance, children were legally the property of the father, who even had the right to sell his kids into slavery. Mothers had no legal rights whatsoever.

For hundreds of years under English common law, fathers continued to have near-absolute power, but they were also legally obliged to protect, support, and educate their offspring. Fathers had virtually all of the tutelage rights, and after a divorce, mothers had only limited access to their children. In 1839, the big change happened. That’s when the British Parliament passed the Custody of Infants Act. Parliament ordered British courts to award custody of children under the age of seven to mothers. It was the first major, successful challenge to the legal presumption favoring fathers over mothers.

New trends brought rapid changes throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. As men left the farm or village for the factory, women remained at home with children. The rising legal status of women – and the 1920 ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment, giving women the right to vote – created a legal presumption in favor of mothers that was firmly in place by the 1930s.

In recent decades, fathers’ rights activists and attorneys have largely succeeded in removing gender-based bias from state laws. However, despite this technical advance, the majority of tutelage arrangements still favor mothers over fathers in terms of custody and parental decision-making authority. However, the courts are supposed to be “gender-neutral” when rendering custody determinations.

The needs and best interests of the child – not the gender of the parents – are the top priority in today’s family law courts. The court will look at a number of different factors when determining who to award custody to, including the health of each parent, history of drug or alcohol abuse, how much time each parent has to spend with the child, the parent’s living situation and whether or not the parent has a history of domestic violence. The court usually prefers to award joint custody if it is in the best interest of the child to ensure that the child grows up with both a mother and a father. However, if awarding joint custody will put the child in danger, the court will look at other custody arrangements to find one that is in the best interests of the child.

If you are involved in any child custody dispute during or after your divorce or think that you will be in a child custody dispute in an upcoming divorce in Westchester, Dutchess, Putnam, Orange, or Rockland County, get the legal help you need and speak to an experienced Peekskill child custody attorney promptly.

By: Kimberly Pelesz

Family law and criminal defense attorney Kimberly A. Pelesz received a B.S. degree magna cum laude and an M.P.A. degree summa cum laude from Binghamton University. She earned her J.D. from Pace University School of Law in White Plains, where she was selected for Phi Alpha Delta. Her charitable activities include work with My Sisters’ Place in White Plains and the Westchester County District Attorney’s Humane Education Taskforce.