Understanding the difference between legal and physical custody

When the relationship between you and your child’s other parent ends but you both plan to continue to coparent with one another, you may need to pursue custody over your son or daughter through New York’s family court system. If you do so, it is important that you understand the types of custody the state recognizes.

Per the New York State Unified Court System, the family court system makes custody determinations that apply until your child turns 18. If the court system gives you custody over your son or daughter, it may grant you physical or legal custody.

Physical custody

New York sometimes refers to physical custody as “residential custody.” If granted physical over your child, this means you are responsible for supervising and otherwise providing care for your child when he or she is in your home. Joint physical custody means you and the other parent share these responsibilities and each has your child stay with you for the same amount of time. Sole physical custody means you have your child living in your home more than half of the time while the other parent has visitation.

Legal custody

Legal custody gives you the ability to make important decisions on your child’s behalf. If you have joint legal custody, you and your child’s other parent must confer before making major decisions about your child’s medical care, education and so on. If granted sole legal custody, you maintain the exclusive right to make important decisions concerning your child.

In the absence of a court order, you and your child’s other parent share physical and legal custody rights over your child.