Making a decision about child custody is often thought of as deciding where the child will live, but that is just the definition of physical custody. Parents in New York must also decide or have a judge decide whether they will share legal custody. Legal custody refers to the right of a parent to make major decisions about issues such as a child’s religion, health care and education. Parents may share legal custody even if one has primary physical custody while the other has visitation rights.
Joint legal custody has its advantages. When a stressful decision needs to be made, it can be helpful to do so with the other parent. Joint custody can also work well even if parents go into the relationship with a lot of conflicts. If they are able to work through this conflict, it can be beneficial for children to see that it is possible to resolve differences and reach a workable solution.
However, if one or both parents is uncooperative, being forced into this situation may not change that. Joint custody may also be unworkable if one parent is unreliable and tends to simply check out from parenting duties from time to time. In some cases, a decision needs to be made quickly and it is impractical to have to consult the other parent.
Ideally, during the divorce, both parents will be able to focus on the best interests of the child and make decisions about child custody based on that. Neither parent may want to give up time with the child or input into significant aspects of the child’s life, but parents may make a realistic assessment of their resources and lifestyles and decide it is not practical for them to share physical or legal custody. If parents cannot come to an agreement, a judge will make the custody decisions.
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