Establishing a custody arrangement is an important aspect of a divorce for couples with children. While some such cases result in a judge granting one parent sole custody, others may involve a joint custody agreement—oftentimes without ever even going to trial.
What does joint custody mean, exactly? Here’s a brief explanation:
In New York, joint custody refers to joint legal custody, and is a type of child custody arrangement in which both parents share responsibility for making decisions about their children. This involves major determinations about the children’s well-being, such as those pertaining to medical and health care issues, schooling, extracurricular activities, religion, and other considerations.
However, the parents and/or the courts still need to determine where the children will live.
“There are two categories of custody that have to be decided in any case, whether it’s decided by an agreement or by an order of the court," explains Joel M. Sunshine, partner at New York divorce law firm Sunshine & Feinstein, LLP. "The first is legal custody, which is decision-making about the children. The second is sometimes called residential custody—sometimes called physical custody.”
Usually, the children spend more time with one parent than the other. However, there are cases in which parents share residential custody of their children, as well. Sometimes, this means the kids split their time living with each parent equally, but not always.
But legal custody is something separate from residential custody. Even if one parent has the children more than the other, the parties can still jointly make decisions about the children.
Because parents who have joint custody need to make decisions together and share time with their children, they need to be able to communicate and get along.
Sunshine explains that most judges will not order joint legal custody in any of these cases, because if the two parents cannot even come to an agreement to avoid trial, “How are you going to work out decisions about the children?” he asks.
“And there are cases that support the position that judges should not order joint legal," continues Sunshine. "And therefore, 90-plus percent of the time, they are going to order sole custody to one of them, so both sides are taking a risk if they go to trial.”
Hiring exceptional legal counsel to help you through your divorce and create a custody agreement that's right for your children is imperative.
Even if you’re going through an uncontested divorce, it’s important to hire a child custody lawyer who is reliable and invested in the outcome of your case. Plus, he or she should also have experience going to trial. Although most cases do not go to trial, it would be beneficial to have an attorney in your corner who knows what to expect, no matter what.
Remember: There’s a lot to know about the law, so leaving certain things to the experts is the right way to go, especially when it comes to the well-being of your children.
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