Child custody is a common area of conflict among divorcing parents. New York law encourages parents to resolve these issues amicably and in the best interests of the children. With that in mind, the courts prefer parents share custody equally – both physical and legal custody. However, joint custody is not always the appropriate solution for parents and children.
Joint Custody Defined
It is important that both parents understand that custody includes two components – physical custody (where children live and when) and legal custody (who has decision-making authority about children’s education, healthcare and religious upbringing, among other things). In many cases, parents may have joint legal custody, but not joint physical custody because it is not realistic that the children spend equal amounts of time with each parent. Therefore, one parent is generally granted primary physical custody and the other gets agreed upon parenting time with the children. Physical custody is particularly important for child support calculations.
Pros of Joint Child Custody
Sharing legal and physical custody is often the best for children. Both parents remain active in their children’s lives and equally available to them. Joint custody also requires parents to consistently cooperate and work together to raise children and resolve disputes. It is better emotionally for children to have parents who get along and do not make children feel they need to pick sides.
Cons of Joint Child Custody
Often, parents are able to resolve custody amicably. However, some have difficulty with shared custody, so they sometimes divide up decision-making authority by area (i.e. education, medical, religious upbringing). In those cases where one parent is simply unable to work with the other parent for the best of the children, sole custody to one parent may be the only option. Joint legal custody requires that the parents are able to mutually agree on all issues related to the children. When parents cannot negotiate a compromise, they should seek the assistance of professionals. Child custody agreements should also include a requirement that either parent can request that a Parent Coordinator be consulted who can guide both parties.
Joint physical custody can be a challenge for children because each home can have different rules and customs. An adjustment period is normal as kids get accustomed to their new lives.
If you are considering divorce and have children, our experienced attorneys can help you develop an appropriate custody and child support agreement.