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Legal Information: New York


November 9, 2020

What options are there for legal custody?

A judge may give one parent sole legal custody. If you have sole legal custody of your child, you have the right to make major decisions about your child, while the other parent does not have that right.1

A judge may also give both parents joint legal custody.  If you have joint legal custody with the other parent, then you and the other parent generally share the same rights and responsibilities to make decisions affecting your child’s life.  This means that both you and the other parent have an input in decisions like where your child goes to school, what kind of religious training your child receives and whether your child needs surgery.1

Joint custody involves the parents communicating with each other and compromising on decisions about the child.  Therefore, this is usually not a good solution for victims of domestic violence since the abuser usually has power and control over the victim and it might not be safe for the victim to disagree with the abuser.  If the victim cannot have equal input and power in the relationship, the decisions about the child that are supposed to be made jointly are often made by the abuser alone.  Sometimes, however, joint custody can be structured in such a way that each parent has total control over a specific area of the child’s life.  For instance, one parent has sole control over medical issues and the other parent has sole control over education issues and religious issues.  This could be a better alternative for domestic violence victims who want to have joint custody.2

Note: It is strongly advised that you consult a lawyer to better understand and discuss all of the possible consequences of agreeing to joint custody before a joint custody agreement of any kind is made.  You can find a lawyer under our NY Finding a Lawyer page.

1 See the NYS Unified Court System website
2 See “The Basics: Custody and Visitation in New York State”