Child Custody in NY: What is it? How Do You Get It?


What is it?

The first step in understanding child custody is to understand the terms used by courts in making custody decisions.

  • Joint legal custody

The parents have to consult and agree on all major decisions involving the child, which include decisions relating to the child’s health, religion, and education. Joint legal custody is typically favored by the courts unless circumstances warrant excluding one parent from major decision making on behalf of the child.

  • Sole legal custody

One parent has the sole decision-making authority on all matters involving the child. There is no obligation for the sole legal custodian to seek input on behalf of the child from the other parent. Usually, sole legal custody is awarded under circumstances where the parents are unable to co-parent their child or where one parent has demonstrated poor decision-making which might endanger or harm the child.

  • Joint physical custody

The parents usually divide the custody of the child 50/50 or fairly equally. Where one parent has more than 50% of the custodial time with the child, that parent will be deemed the primary physical custodian and typically has certain decision-making authority in the absence of an agreement.

  • Sole physical custody

One party has physical custody of the child with the other parent usually having some sort of visitation/access schedule. Visitation/access describes the time a parent is allowed to have physical time with the child.

How do you get it?

While every case is different and has its own set of considerations, the following will certainly help you in your custody case:

  • Having a stable job and a consistent work schedule.
  • Having an adequate living situation and proper accommodations (i.e. appropriate sleeping, bathing, eating, playing).
  • Having a longstanding and close relationship with your children.
  • Having no prior or current substance abuse issues or circumstances of poor decision making.
  • Having the ability to cooperate and co-parent with the other parent.
  • A history of considering and prioritizing the best interests of your child.

Note: This is not an exhaustive list, but these suggestions may improve your chances in a custody proceeding.

Some Final Thoughts

  • It is a common misconception that the party who makes significantly more money or has a bigger/nicer home will win custody or more visitation/access with the child.
  • Do not speak negatively about the other parent to your child or in the child’s presence regardless of how much tension or animosity exists between you and the other parent.
  • Do not discuss the litigation with your child. This may be viewed as parental alienation, which will result in negative consequences in court.

Call us for immediate help at (914) 712-6878

Stephen J. Riebling, Jr. is a Family Law attorney and partner with Riebling & Payton, PLLC, located in Westchester County, NY and has been practicing for more than 23 years. To learn more about Mr. Riebling and the firm, visit Riebling & Payton, PLLC at

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