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Types of Child Custody and Custody Arrangements


Custody refers to the legal right and responsibility to provide for a child’s care. New York Courts divide custody into two main categories of responsibility:

  • Physical custody. Physical custody refers to the child’s primary residence and the access arrangement of when the child will be with which parent.
  • Legal custody. Legal custody refers to major decisions about the child’s education, healthcare, religious upbringing, and other important child-rearing decisions.

Joint vs. sole custody

When arranging custody, you can agree to share joint custody or one parent will have sole custody. Joint or sole custody determines to what extent one parent or both parents assume physical and legal child custody responsibilities. When parents share joint custody, (legal) both parents must agree on the major decisions that affect the child’s life.  When parents share joint physical custody the child may spend half the time living with one parent and half the time living with the other parent.  Even if one parent is designated as having primary physical custody of the child for child support purposes, the parents can still have equal access to the child. The parent with whom the child is living with makes decisions about daily care, such as what the child eats, what time the child goes to bed and gets up in the morning, when the child bathes, etc. when that parent is with the child.

Through joint legal custody, both parents would decide which school is the best for the child’s education, which healthcare insurance to use and the preferred doctor. They also make decisions together about the child’s religious upbringing.

In contrast, sole legal custody assigns these decisions to only one parent.  Courts do sometimes assigns “spheres of influence” when one parent will make the sole decision for education and the other parent will make the sole decision for medical issues, for example.

In general, New York judges favor when people agree to joint custody arrangements, whenever possible, but will rarely award them.

Deciding what is best for your children can be difficult. However, a New York divorce lawyer can help you overcome obstacles and make the right decisions.