What Role Does a Parent’s Income Play in Custody Decisions?

Money can’t buy you love. Money alone also can’t buy you custody of your child during a divorce.

For many divorcing parents, there is a significant difference between their respective incomes; one parent may, in fact, have no income at all. While income certainly plays a role in determining child support obligations, what impact does a parent’s income – or lack thereof – have on a judge’s decision regarding custody arrangements?

All decisions as to custody and visitation in New York are guided by what is in the best interests of the child. A judge will evaluate numerous factors in determining custody arrangements, including:

  • which parent has been the main care giver/nurturer of the child
  • the parenting skills of each parent, their strengths and weaknesses and their ability to provide for the child's special needs, if any
  • the mental and physical health of the parents
  • whether there has been domestic violence in the family
  • work schedules and child care plans of each parent
  • the child's relationships with brothers, sisters, and members of the rest of the family
  • what the child wants, depending on the age of the child
  • each parent's ability to cooperate with the other parent and to encourage a relationship with the other parent, when it is safe to do so

The ability of a parent seeking primary custody to provide for their child’s needs is also a critical factor used by New York judges in determining what is in the best interests of the child. However, a child’s needs aren’t limited to what can be purchased with money. As one court noted:

“While concerns such as the financial status and the ability of each parent to provide for the child should not be overlooked by the court, an equally valid concern is the ability of each parent to provide for the child's emotional and intellectual development.  Eschbach v. Eschbach

“The mere fact that one parent, whether mother or father, is better able to offer the child adequate support than the other is not controlling.” Salk v. Salk.  However, “custody may be awarded to the parent financially best able to care for the child's upbringing and education” and “the lack of a permanent or suitable home or firm source of income” may weigh heavily against that parent’s wishes for custody. Id.

When a parent’s employment situation presents risks to the child’s well-being,  it can become a strike against them. Just because one parent can offer more creature comforts or provide more luxurious arrangements won’t necessarily play a role in determining custody. But when there are serious concerns about fundamental needs such as housing and food, it will.

If you have questions or concerns regarding child support, custody, visitation or any other matters pertaining to divorce, please give New York divorce and family law attorney Danial Clement a call at (212) 683-9551 or fill out our online form to arrange for a consultation. We look forward to assisting you.

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