An Introduction to Child Custody in New York

Trying to navigate a New York City Family Court while pursuing a child custody case can be daunting, especially for parties who have no prior experience with this type of legal matter. Whether a custody action is part of a divorce, or if the parents were never married, it is beneficial to understand the different forms of child custody and visitation in New York.

Joint and Sole Custody

Joint and sole custody refer to whether or not two people will share custody of a child (joint), or if one party will be responsible for providing care (sole). Many people new to the legal world automatically assume that they either have to have sole custody of their child, or forfeit their custodial rights. Because New York has various forms of child custody, this is just not true.

Physical Custody

Physical custody, also referred to as residential custody, determines where a child will live. The person who is awarded physical custody will be considered to be the primary caregiver, and will be responsible for the child’s safety and well-being.

A party will be awarded physical custody if they have been the primary caregiver throughout the child’s life, and up until the action was started. Stay-at-home-parents are often awarded physical custody. In addition to providing daily care for their children, parents who are awarded physical custody must ensure that all other aspects of their custody agreement are met. For example, it is the primary caregiver’s responsibility to track and log child support payments received from the other parent. Stipulations regarding visitation between the non-custodial parent and child need to be followed, and depending on the written agreement, it may be the custodial parent’s responsibility to facilitate visitation.

Legal Custody

Legal custody allows parents or caregivers to make major decisions regarding a child’s education, medical care, and religious upbringing. If both parents have been active participants in the child’s life leading up to a court action, then it is very likely that a judge will award joint legal custody. This means that both parents will have equal decision making power.

Joint legal custody can be tricky, as both parents are unlikely to agree on everything. It is always encouraged that parent’s try to reach an agreement on their own, or through mediation, before filing motion papers in court. A judge will not take kindly to parents who continually appear to argue over non-emergency matters. If this behavior persists, a judge will not hesitate to modify the custody agreement and order that joint legal custody be changed to sole custody.

Visitation Agreements

If one parent is granted sole physical custody of a child, then the non-custodial parent will be granted visitation rights. Visitation between the child and non-custodial parent is important because it allows a healthy and positive relationship between the two to grow.

Visitation schedules and stipulations are usually agreed upon by the parties to a child custody action, however, a court will not hesitate to intervene if an agreement cannot be reached. A judge may issue an alternative visitation order if there are allegations of abuse against the non-custodial parent. If this is the case, traditional, one-on-one visitation between the child and non-custodial parent would not be in the child’s best interest. Supervised visitation is a common alternative, where a neutral third party will be present for visits.

There are occasions where the non-custodial parent will live far away from their child, and will be unable to follow a normal visitation schedule. Thanks to advances in technology, out-of-town parents can still have regular virtual visits with their child. Skype and iChat are great virtual visitation tools, especially for parents with young children who may find it difficult to engage over the phone or email.

Common Courtesies for Joint Custody

Sharing custody of a child means that both parties need to learn how to successfully co-parent. Transitioning from a singular two parent household, into two single parent households can be tough for both children and parents. A cornerstone of effective co-parenting is stellar communication and cooperation between the adults.

Courteous behavior will help a co-parenting relationship remain positive (or, at least less contentious). If parents have joint legal custody, then both parties must keep each other in the loop regarding all medical issues, doctor or hospital visits, and illnesses that the child may have. It is also a good idea to keep each other informed of changes in the visitation schedule, as well as school or extracurricular activities. Finally, if one parent is planning on taking the child on vacation, whether domestically or internationally, they are required to discuss plans with the other party. Being courteous co-parents is always in the best interest of the child.

New York City Child Custody Experts

Brian D. Perskin & Associates P.C. is a New York City based family law firm that specializes in child custody and divorce cases. Their expert knowledge of the intricate workings of the judicial system allows the staff to provide top-notch representation to their clients. Brian and his team’s extensive motion practice and trial experience routinely result in positive and fair child custody settlements. For more information, or to schedule a free consultation, call 718-875-7584 today!

Scroll to Top