While divorce can be very stressful for parents, it can be even more stressful and confusing for their children. If primary or sole custody is going to be given to a parent, the children may have a preference for the parent with whom they would rather live. Child custody cases can be very complex, very emotional events and children may have a say in how they turn out.
The specific laws regarding custody proceedings vary from state to state, but the standard goal for every case is to reach a verdict that is in the "best interest of the child." This means that the relative merit of each parent's claim for custody is based on their ability to provide the best living environment for the child/children. This concept acts as standard against which every aspect of the proceedings can be measured.
Because it is rare that any single factor is cause enough to give custody to one parent or another, many factors are taken into consideration. These can include the mental and physical health of the parent, their finances, the presence of a history of physical, substance, or spousal abuse, the child's living environment, potential educational opportunities, etc. However, in the state of New York the child's opinion may very well be one of these factors.
Under federal law, minors are considered unable to make sound decisions that will have legally binding outcomes. This includes decisions regarding their choice of custodial parent. That being said, the closer a child is to being a legal adult, the more weight their opinions will carry in a legal situation. Children are also able to provide a unique view in regard to the relationship of the parents and a judge may very well take those opinions into consideration while making verdicts. It should be noted that any child's opinion will be taken with grain of salt because there is no guarantee they have motivations with their best long-term interest in mind.
In the case of custody proceedings, the significance of the courts perceptions is very apparent. The way they understand the situation is often the determining factor when it comes to giving custody to one parent over another. It is situations like these where the value of a trained and experienced legal profession becomes more apparent. Having someone who is familiar with the legal environment providing guidance and support for you can make a world of difference.