Last Updated On: December 9, 2022

What Does Joint Custody Even Mean and is it Right for You?

When it comes to parenting after the breakdown of a relationship, the most important thing to remember is that your relationship needs to remain civil for the best interests of your shared child(ren).  Acting in the best interests of your child is the standard New York Family Courts use to make custody determinations.  This can be put to the test during interpersonal relations with an ex-partner, especially when the relationship with your ex ended on bad terms.  Foremost in your mind should be the thought that you and your ex-partner’s relationship dynamic will shape the way your child will view relationship dynamics in their own lives.  Ex-partners who appear friendly, or are at least civil with one another (even if they don’t mean it), will remind their shared child that even though their parents may not be together they can still work together.  That is the essence of Co-Parenting and the key to a successful Joint Legal Custody arrangement. Before you make any significant decisions, it is important to speak with a child custody lawyer.

By now, you may have heard legal phrases like consultation rights, decision making, or maybe even spheres of influence, but what does Joint Custody mean, exactly?  In the context of child custody, there are two main components: Physical Custody and Legal Custody.  Joint Custody typically refers to the Legal Custody component and referred to as Joint Legal Custody.

Physical Custody is simply who the child will be with, and when.  Residential Custody is a specific term related to Physical Custody that identifies that the child primarily lives with one of their parents and visits with the other.  Shared Physical Custody means the child splits their time between parent’s homes, typically equally or very close to it. Another term you may have heard is custodial and non-custodial parents. The parent with whom the child spends most of the time is deemed the custodial parent, and the other parent exercising visitation would be called the non-custodial parent. Physical Custody is straightforward in that it is relative to who has the child and how much of the time. In terms of visitation or parenting time schedules, the arrangements can be as simple as every other weekend to laying out a complex schedule that includes holidays, school breaks, birthdays, mid-week visits, and vacation time.

Legal Custody relates to which parent will make the major decisions affecting a child’s health, education, religion, and general welfare.  Legal Custody is about major decisions: will a child have a surgery or not, where the child will go to school, will they undergo religious rites of passage?  Minor decisions like what the child will wear, eat for breakfast, or who they will see after school are typically “day-to-day” decisions related to Physical Custody and made by the parent on duty that day.  Joint Legal Custody means that the child’s parents will make major decisions together; Sole Legal Custody means one parent makes the major decision alone, sometimes with the input of the other parent, and sometimes not.

Parents who are unable to resolve their disputes with one another often rely on the courts to resolve conflict.  Joint Legal Custody is typically inappropriate in situations where there is consistent conflict or disagreement between parents.  I often use the example that Joint Legal Custody will succeed for those parents who can sit down for a cup of coffee to discuss any issues related to the child that might need discussing.  If coffee isn’t your thing, a simple email to exchange ideas/schedules/updates will do just fine. 

Oftentimes the past is the biggest roadblock preventing ex-partners from being able to move forward as co-parents after their relationship breaks down.  I’m reminded of a quote by the great Kirk Franklin: “There’s a reason the windshield is so much larger than the rearview mirror – where you’re going and what’s in front of you is much more important than what’s behind.”  You must try not to let what happened between you in the past rob you of the opportunity to raise your child as co-parents, to guide them down a road paved with happiness and success.

I will conclude this section by saying that not all situations lend themselves to co-parenting or Joint Legal Custody.  There are numerous issues like domestic violence, child abuse/neglect, mental health concerns, or drug/alcohol abuse that would not be appropriate for Joint Legal Custody.  Even if you and your ex-partner are not affected by such issues, the relationship between you and your ex may still not be appropriate for Joint Legal Custody unless you are both able to commit to the keys of co-parenting.

This article is written for informational purposes only and should not be considered legal advice. Each family is unique, each case is different. If you find yourself in a situation involving custody issues it is often a good idea to consult with a Manhattan divorce attorney to discuss the unique aspects of your case before taking action. Whether you want to move forward with Joint Legal Custody or are looking to pursue Sole Legal Custody in Brooklyn, Bronx, Queens, Manhattan, Westchester County, or New York City, the attorneys at The Law Office of Ryan Besinque, PC can help you with filing for your parenting plan. Call or text us at (929) 251-4477 or email us at for a consultation.

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