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In New York, child custody consists of two parts, i.e., legal custody and physical (or residential) custody. The term "joint custody" refers to only the legal custody part.
The parent or parents with legal custody will make decisions concerning the child's or children's health, safety, education, and welfare. One parent can make these decisions alone, which is known as sole legal custody, or both parents may retain the right to make these decisions, known as joint legal custody. Joint legal custody means both parents cooperate on decision-making. Sole legal custody means only one parent can make decisions and obtain information from the child's or children's school and doctor, for example.
Physical custody determines where the child or children will reside. Sole physical custody means the child or children live with one parent and visit the other parent. Joint physical custody means the child or children reside with both parents.
There are rare circumstances where parents have the children an equal amount of time. In most cases, one parent will have the children for greater period of time than the other parent.
Regardless of the amount of time each parent spends with the children, it is recommended that the parents agree to a "Parenting Plan." Such a plan includes parenting time schedules. These plans may be determined by the parties where there is no conflict. However, where conflict exists between the parents, it is generally advisable to establish a parenting schedule with the involvement of the court.
Parenting plans should be specific in order to avoid potential conflicts and eliminate confusion. In developing a specific parenting plan, parents should keep in mind that it can be helpful to specify when visits will occur to make the plan more enforceable. For example, if a parent will have the child or children every other weekend, it may be helpful to specify the starting and ending times and days. The location(s) of pick-up and drop offs should also be included.
This option is used when the child's or children's safety and well-being require that visits with the other parent be supervised by another adult, or a professional agency. In extreme situations the court may order that no visitation be permitted by the noncustodial parent because contact with the parent would be physically or emotionally harmful to the child.
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