New York Child Custody Lawyer Ellen B. Holtzman
Ellen B. Holtzman is a leading New York matrimonial trial attorney who represents men and women in cases of divorce and child custody. With nearly 30 years of matrimonial and family law experience, Ellen has a record of success in complex -- and complicated -- divorce and child custody cases. Ellen has tried and prevailed in numerous child custody cases, several of which are quoted and followed by lawyers and judges throughout the State of New York. Known for her strength in the area of child custody law, Ellen is a sought-after speaker at high-profile symposia on the many complex issues involved in child custody. Recently, she delivered the legal point of view at a major conference at New York University on the present status of the concept "the best interest of the child." Her presentation to an audience of lawyers, members of the judiciary, psychologists and psychiatrists addressed the interface among legal, judicial, and psychoanalytic perspectives in child custody cases.
Settling Your Child Custody Case vs. Going to Court
Most child custody cases do settle outside of the courtroom, and although Ellen B. Holtzman is a consummate trial lawyer, she always prefers to help to settle your case, if possible, rather than going to trial. Ellen says, "A court case is not only costly, it greatly exacerbates the acrimony. The repercussions of a child custody dispute can be long lasting and very painful for everyone. And don't forget that a judge will be making the decisions about your future, and your children's futures. His or her decision, for better or worse, will have a major impact on their lives." However, if your high-conflict custody case can't be settled, this much is certain: Ellen is always prepared to go to trial if it cannot be avoided.
When Custody Disputes Are Tried in the Courts
With custody cases that do go to trial, the judge takes many factors into consideration. Some of the factors that the judge will consider are the quality of the home life, including the quality and state of the house itself; whether the house is safe for the children; whether one parent is more able or willing to help with the homework; and whether there is any history of domestic violence. Of critical importance is the determination of which parent is more likely to encourage the relationship between the children and the other parent. Ellen notes, "One of the factors becoming more important in New York courts today is the child's preference. Obviously, this becomes more important as the child gets older. But the court decides based on the totality of the circumstances. All custody is ultimately individualized to the facts of the case, and the best interest of the child. Courts today do not favor mothers over fathers or fathers more than mothers in awarding custody." The law says the custody award must be based on what is best for the child, and the judge makes the decision based on the law.
Physical Custody in New York
Physical custody deals with where the child will live. The parent with whom the child is residing at any given time has the right to make the day-to-day decisions about his or her activities and well-being. When the parties agree to settle out of court, they can negotiate physical custody in many combinations or permutations. It may be joint, meaning the parties will share physical custody, be it alternating weeks, dividing weeks, or some other physical arrangement that works for this particular family; or sole custody, whereby one parent has the children, with the other parent having parental access. Physical access (sometimes referred to as "visitation") must be tailored to fit each situation. "For example," says Ellen, "in cases where one or both parties are police officers, doctors, or nurses, their schedule is often rotating. So an alternate weekend schedule will not work for them. We develop a schedule that is designed to work around the parents' work schedules. Similarly, when one parent has a problem such as drug addiction, access may have to be supervised in order to protect the child." Ellen stresses that if the parties cannot negotiate custody, and if the case goes to trial, one parent will be awarded sole custody, and the other will be granted appropriate access. "The degree of access is going to be granted in accordance with the circumstances, as the judge sees those circumstances," says Ms. Holtzman.
Legal Custody in New York
Legal custody addresses who will make the major decisions in the child's life, such as where s/he goes to school, medical or surgical decisions, selection of camps, etc. In New York, legal custody extends to age 18. As with negotiated physical custody, legal custody may be negotiated in many combinations and permutations. It may be joint, meaning both parents are involved in the decision making process; it might involve "spheres" of decision making, where the major issues are divided between the parties (for example, the father may be responsible for decisions regarding medical care and the mother may be responsible for decisions regarding education); or it may be "sole," meaning that one parent makes all of the decisions. In settlement of legal custody, Ellen notes the importance of negotiating an arrangement that is appropriate to the situation. "When the parties have joint legal custody, they are required to communicate with each other in order to share the decision making. When I create a joint legal custody agreement, I anticipate that disagreements may arise, and specific provisions are made for resolving disputes. We build into each custody agreement a process to follow that will provide the parties with a mechanism for resolving issues on which they do not agree. We address issues such as which parent (or both) will consult with the school personnel should there be a problem at school and each party's right to a second expert opinion should a medical question arise." Ellen notes that factors of domestic violence or drug and alcohol abuse must always be considered when negotiating the terms of custody. "Some of our agreements with respect to legal and physical custody can exceed thirty pages, but our goal is always to anticipate as many issues as possible. However, if the parties are really unable to agree, one of the parties may submit the issue for determination by the court, and then it will have to be the decision of the judge," said Ms. Holtzman.
A Powerful Advocate in Custody Cases
Ellen's clients attest to her integrity, her ability, and her experience. She is a powerful advocate on the thorny issues of custody and she is known and respected as a leader in this area of law. As one client recently said, "I felt like I was always Ellen's top priority. She knew what I would need to take care of the girls, and she created the best scenario for us. Just walking through the courthouse with Ellen, I could see how well liked and respected she is, and I felt like a million dollars. Ultimately, I got full legal and physical custody." In a Google review, another wrote, "In addition to her deep professional expertise and years of experience in this area of the law,... Ellen at all times displayed the highest ethical standards, and I felt entirely confident that my priorities and personal values were being faithfully reflected in the conduct of the case. I unequivocally recommend Ellen and her great staff to anyone who has the misfortune to find themselves in a similar position. Thank you Ellen!"