Legal Custody in New York

You do not need to be married to be awarded custody of your child. In New York, child custody cases involve children under the age of 18 and are decided based on the overriding question of what is in the best interests of the child.

What is Legal Custody?

There are multiple aspects of a child custody case including but not limited to the issue of legal custody, which generally involves the question of how major decisions will be made for the children, such as decisions related to educational issues, medical issues, and religious issues. Legal custody can be awarded to one parent only, which would be called sole legal custody, or can be awarded to parents jointly, which would be called joint legal custody. Being awarded sole legal custody, however, does not mean that the other parent will not be involved in making major decisions for the child. In some cases, the parent who has sole legal custody may be required to first consult with the other parent prior to making any major decisions for the child.

Who Makes Decisions when Legal Custody is Shared?

Similarly, in cases where parents share joint legal custody, there may be a scenario where one parent is the designated the “tie-breaker” in the event of a disagreement, or the parents may be required to consult with a professional in the relevant field in question (for example, the child’s pediatrician if there is a disagreement over a medical decision, or the child’s teacher if there is a disagreement over an educational decision). Another alternative is that the parents may be required to consult with a professional called a Parent Coordinator, whose job is to assist parents in reaching an agreement regarding a major decision. Joint legal custody is an aspirational goal in the majority custody cases and there is no automatic presumption that one parent is better equipped to be awarded legal custody over the other.

Factors that Determine Legal Custody

The parents’ ability to communicate with one another and co-parent will help to determine the type of legal custody that will be awarded or agreed upon in a custody case. Other factors that will help determine legal custody include but are not limited to each parents’ involvement in making major decisions for the child prior to the onset of the custody case and which parent is in the better position to make appropriate major decisions for the child.

Typically, even if one parent is awarded sole legal custody of the child, both parents are permitted to be listed as a parent on all applications and forms filled out on behalf of the child and both parents are provided full access to the child’s records kept with any professionals. Additionally, both parents are usually permitted to speak to all of the children’s providers, including but not limited to educational providers, medical providers, mental health providers, etc.

The issue of legal custody is often one of the most difficult aspects of a case and having an attorney who is well-versed in the law is important. Additionally, an experienced attorney will be able to suggest ideas for resolving custody that are tailored to the unique facts of each individual case, which ultimately helps to resolve a custody matter without the need for a trial.

Contact Our Child Custody Attorney

Legal child custody in New York is an important component to consider while going through a divorce. If you have questions about legal child custody in New York or need legal advice as you consider a divorce, please contact us for help.