One of the most complicated issues related to family law and divorce in New York State is child custody. Not only is this difficult in a legal sense, but it can be an emotional roller coaster as well. As the decision is made to end a marriage, child custody will come to the forefront. Knowing the basics such as the difference between legal custody and physical custody is important when trying to sift through the options, come to an agreement, or choose to go to court. As with any family law matter, legal help is always beneficial.

When there is a custody order, the child’s care will be decided upon. There are two separate parts to child custody. They are legal custody and physical custody. The best interests of the child are paramount regardless of the decision that is made. Without a court order, the parents will each share an equal level of rights with physical and legal custody.

With legal custody, that parent will have decision making authority regarding such issues as the child’s medical care, religion that is adhered to, and schooling among other factors. With joint legal custody, the decisions regarding the child will be made by both parents together. The living arrangements are irrelevant. The parents are required to come to an agreement on the child and how he or she is raised. Should a parent be granted sole legal custody, all decisions will be made by that parent.

Physical custody (also referred to as residential custody) means that the parent with physical custody will be responsible for the child’s care and will handle supervision. When there is joint physical custody, the child will reside with each parent equally. Should the judge award sole physical custody, the child will live with that parent more than half the time. The other parent will generally get visitation rights.

Because child custody can be one of the more difficult factors in a divorce case, it is critical to have legal assistance from the start. This is true if the case is contentious, amicable or somewhere in between. Calling a law firm that specializes in family law and divorce in New York State is one of the most important steps to take not just for the parents, but for the child too.