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New York Joint Custody Frequently Asked Questions

Q. What is joint custody in New York?

A. In New York, joint custody refers to both parents having legal custody of the child. There is both legal custody and physical custody. Legal custody grants the authority to make decisions for the child such as those regarding medical care, education and religious practices. Physical custody is where the child lives. Even if a couple have equal physical custody of a child or close to it, a New York court will not refer to this as “joint custody.”

If parents have “joint custody,” it means they have joint legal custody and an equal say in the important decisions that may be made in the child’s life regardless of who has physical custody or how much visitation the noncustodial parent has. The parents must discuss and agree upon major decisions affecting the child when they have joint legal custody.

Q. When is joint custody a good idea?

A. If the relationship of the parents it amiable and they generally agree on child rearing practices, joint custody may work. If the parents are hostile or have very different ideas of how to raise a child, joint custody is likely to fail.

Q. How can we get joint custody?

A. Usually a judge in New York will only grant joint custody when both parents agree to it. Even then, a judge will question the parents to determine whether joint custody is in the best interests of the child. If a judge feels joint custody will be successful, they may then grant it.

Q. Will a judge grant joint custody if one of us doesn’t want it?

A. If one of the parents is opposed to joint custody, the chances are miniscule that a judge will order it, because of the degree of cooperation needed for joint custody to work.

Q. Could a judge ever change a joint custody order?

A. Custody orders in New York are always subject to change in the best interests in the child if there is a substantial change in circumstances. For example, if one of the parents starts heavily abusing drugs or stops visiting and communicating with the child, a court might change legal custody from joint to sole legal custody.

Q. What are our options besides joint custody in New York?

A. Options besides joint legal custody are

  • Sole custody. The court could grant sole legal custody to just one of the parents. This means only the parent with sole legal custody can make important decisions regarding the child such as whether or not they should have surgery, what kind of religious teachings they are given or whether or not they are given permission to play high school football.
  • Shared custody. Shared legal custody is different from joint custody, because each parent is given an area where they can make decisions alone. For example, one parent could have the authority to make decisions on all educational matters and the other parent could have the authority to make decisions on all other matters.
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