Legal vs. Physical Custody

New York Child Custody Attorney

If you are dealing with a custody-related dispute, you are probably familiar with the terms physical custody and legal custody. What do these mean, and how may they impact your case? Understanding more about child custody and how it may impact your divorce can help you make informed choices about your case, which can in turn help you reach an ideal agreement or judgment. At Eiges & Orgel, PLLC we can offer the legal representation you need to resolve your custody case. Our New York child custody attorneys have more than 40 years of legal experience and have been handling these matters for more than three decades.

Legal Custody

The New York State Unified Court System defines legal custody as "the right to make major decisions about your child." This may include key decisions related to medical care, education and schooling, religion and more. If it is considered in a child's best interests, parents will share joint legal custody of a child, meaning they will work together to make these decisions about their child's upbringing. This typically requires a considerable amount of communication and cooperation from both parents.

If the court determines that sole legal custody is better for a child, the parent with physical custody rights will typically be awarded legal custody as well. The other parent may be informed of major decisions involving the child's upbringing and may even offer input, but the final say on such matters will lie with the custodial parent.

Physical Custody

Physical custody addresses who a child lives with on a day-to-day basis. A parent who has primary physical custody may be referred to as the custodial parent or primary caretaker. This parent will spend the most time with the child and will be responsible for the child's care the majority or all of the time, depending on the custody arrangement. If a parent is awarded primary custody, the other parent may be granted visitation rights.

Parents may also share physical custody of a child, based on a set agreement and schedule, such as weekdays with one parent and weekends with the other, one week with one parent and one week with the other, etc. The goal in any physical custody arrangement will be to create as stable of an environment as possible for the child based on what is in his or her best interests.

Custody Determination by New York Courts

In determining physical and legal custody, the court may look at the current arrangement and its workability, as well as additional issues, such as: each parent's living situation, the child's wishes, each parent's ability to care for the child and to provide emotional and intellectual support, each parent's involvement with the child to date, and whether either parent has been abusive. The court may also appoint an "Attorney for the Child," who will interview the child and can argue for what is in his or her best interests, even if the parents disagree.

Once legal and physical custody have been determined, it can be difficult to modify such agreements or judgments. A significant change in circumstances, however, may warrant such a modification. Custody arrangements may also influence child support payments, as a custodial parent may be entitled to financial support from the noncustodial parent to help with the child's care. Child support is determined based on a set formula set forth by New York law.

Are you ready to get additional insight regarding custody that applies to your unique situation? Involve a New York custody lawyer at our firm. We are experienced, compassionate and ready to fight for our clients' rights.