Unmarried Parents in New York – Child Custody Issues

If you are unmarried and the child resides in the State of New York, you may petition the Family Court in the County where your or the child resides. An Order of Custody gives responsibility for a child’s care to one or more parents or some eligible third party, such as a grandparent or relative. There are two aspects to custody: (1) legal custody, sometimes referred to as “decision-making” custody, and (2) residential or physical custody.

A New York State Family Law Court can make determinations about a child’s custody only until the child is 18 years old. Generally, if a custody dispute exists, meaning there is a disagreement about which parents shall have legal and residential custody, the Court will appoint an Attorney for Child to represent your child’s interests As the child gets older, his wishes will come into play more and more in the Court’s determination. However, the ultimate decision lies with the Court and is based upon what is best for the child or in the “best interests of the child.”

What is the Difference Between Legal and Physical Custody?

Whoever has legal custody has the right to make important decisions about a child’s care such as medical care or religious upbringing. If the Judge gives joint legal custody, the parents make major decisions about the child together. It doesn’t matter which parent the child lives with; both parents must agree on the decisions together. If the Judge gives one parent sole legal custody, only one parent has the right to make major decisions for the child.

Whoever has physical custody, also known as residential custody, is responsible for the actual physical care and supervision of a child. If the Judge gives joint physical custody, the child lives with each parent for an equal amount of time. If the Judge gives sole physical custody, the child lives with this adult more than 50% of the time and this person is the custodial party and the noncustodial party will have visitation.

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