In a custody case, the court will decide which parent will be the better parent in rearing the child (unless the parties come to an agreement before trial). In doing so, courts will employ a number of methods which when taken together, help the court make a custody determination. Custody cases are fact based, and each case is decided on its own merits. The court will employ a series of factors stemming from case law to make an initial custody determination based on what is in best interests of the child.
The Court will consider what is in the "Best Interest of the Child" when determining which parent gets custody. The best interest of the child standard is made up of a broad range of factors that the Court will consider. The factors are taken together as a whole, none of which taken alone are the determining factor.
Residential custody refers to where the children live in NY. Legal custody refers to who has the authority to make decisions regarding the religion, health, education, and welfare of the children. If the parties have straight joint custody, they equally share residential custody and decision making power (see the different forms of custody below.)
Sole Custody is when the children primarily reside with one parent and that parent makes all the decisions related to health, education, religion, and welfare of the children. Generally the non-custodial parent will receive independent access to the health, education, and welfare records pertaining to child so that he or she can monitor the custodial parent's decision making.
The children primarily reside with one parent but decisions related to health, education, religion, and welfare of the children are decided by both parents together.
The parents split physical custody and decisions related to health, education, religion, and welfare of the children are decided by both parents together. To avoid disagreement, it is increasingly more common for parents who choose Joint Custody to agree that one parent makes all decisions about education, and the other parent makes all the decisions about health, (or something similar).