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What does it mean to have legal custody of a child in New York?

In New York, there are two different types of child custody that must be settled when parents separate or divorce. The first is physical custody. Physical custody covers where a child actually lives and with which parent they spend their time. It is possible for a court to assign both parents physical custody of their child in a joint custody plan, but this type of determination will only happen if it serves the best interests of the child.

It is not uncommon for a child to be placed in the sole physical custody of one parent and have visitation time with their other parent. This is done to accommodate the needs of the child, their schedule and schooling and other important factors that can weigh on the development of the child. However, just because a parent receives sole physical custody of a child does not mean that they will also receive sole legal custody of their child.

Legal custody is the second form of custody that New York courts must work out. Legal custody involves the right of a parent to make significant decisions about their child's life. A parent with legal custody can decide which school a child attends, if the child will practice a religion and if and how the child will be treated for medical conditions. It is not uncommon for parents to share this form of custody, though specific issues in a parent's relationship with their child may limit their chances of retaining legal custody.

If a court assigns both parents legal custody of a child it is because the court believes such a decision serves the best interests of the child. However, while shared custody may benefit some children it may be detrimental to others. Therefore, parents with child custody questions are encouraged to discuss their children's needs and their concerns with a family law attorney.

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