Family laws are state, rather than city, laws and New York City is governed by New York state custody laws. In New York City, custody determinations are made in the New York City Family Court Division of the New York State Unified Court System. In New York, neither parent is given preference in custody battles. Instead, the law grants both natural parents equal rights to their children. Consequently, many couples enter into joint custody arrangements and judges frequently order joint custody. In determining whether joint custody is best for your child, the judge will examine the parents' ability to work together and investigate whether joint custody is in the best interests of your child.
Joint Legal Custody
Joint legal custody is the most common type of joint custody in New York. This arrangement grants equal decision-making authority to each parent. Some joint custody agreements have tie-breaker provisions. For example, if the parents can't agree on something, the mother might have final authority about medical decisions and the father might have final authority over religious ones. Joint legal custody does not necessarily mean that parents also share physical custody of their children. One parent might be the primary physical custodian. New York courts lean strongly toward joint legal custody unless one parent is unfit to make decisions for his child.
Joint Physical Custody
In joint physical custody arrangements, parents share physical time with the children. Parents may not necessarily have equal time with their children, but both parents have substantial quantities of time. Children may alternate weeks spent with each parent, may spend a few days with one parent followed by a few days with the other, or may spend the school year with one parent and the summer with the other. Joint physical custody is almost always accompanied by joint legal custody.
Split custody occurs when siblings are split up, with one or more children going to one parent and one or more children going to the other parent. New York law places the best interests of the child first and, consequently, judges are extremely hesitant to issue split custody orders. They are also unlikely to approve settlements that involve split custody. However, in some cases -- such as a child with special needs who can be controlled by only one parent or a child who poses a danger to his sibling -- judges may approve split custody.
The relocation of one parent can make joint physical custody nearly impossible. Consequently, state law requires parents to notify the court of their intent to relocate and try to obtain the other parent's permission. If the other parent objects, a judge will hear the case and determine whether the move is in the best interests of the child. If the judge approves the move, custody arrangements may be altered to allow time with the parent who did not move while still keeping the child's life and schedule consistent. For example, the child may spend the school year with one parent and the summer with the other.
Custody agreements are typically a part of a divorce decree. Parents may enter into a parenting plan they both consent to or present their case to a judge. Parents who wish to change their custody agreement can petition the court for a change if they can show a change in the child's material circumstances.
Custody proceedings can also be initiated by a father after he petitions for legal paternity. Fathers who are not a child's legal father have no rights to custody or visitation, but after establishing paternity -- either by signing a paternity stipulation along with the mother or by establishing paternity through a paternity test and court petition -- they have equal rights to their children.