Child Custody in New York is divided into two categories. The parent that the children actually reside with has Physical or Residential Custody of the children. Legal custody involves decision making for the child about important issues such as Health, Education and Religion. The parties are free to agree to a shared custody arrangement as well.
Custody trials are some of the most difficult, time consuming and costly litigation that parties can face. The trial judge often appoints an attorney for the child, formerly known as a “law guardian” who represents the child or children where there is an issue of custody to be determined. One or both parties may be responsible for paying the legal fees for the attorney for the child. A trial judge may also order a forensic psychologist or psychiatrist to meet with the parents and the children to help the judge in determining which party should have custody. Again, the parties are required to pay these costs, which can be thousands of dollars. The children have to then meet with these people, answer questions, and become actively involved in the custody battle between the parties. Sometimes, the children are asked to come to court, meet with the Judge in chambers, and answer any questions that the Judge may have.
Visitation and parenting time are often handled by the courts with a one-size-fits-all schedule of parenting time, otherwise known as visitation. The parties can end up with a very general schedule that may not fit the routine of the children, and job schedules of the parents. Oftentimes, this results in post judgment litigation when the parents are more confused by the parenting time schedule, or it does not adequately reflect their needs, or the needs of the children.
In mediation, parents can come up with a more specific parenting plan that takes into account their children’s needs, such as their extra-curricular activities schedules, special needs of the children, travel time, as well as the parent’s individual work and other scheduling issues. The parenting time schedule can be as specific as the parties wish, and tailor made to the individuals involved. This, often times, can prevent costly post-judgment litigation that arises when parties find they have entered into a schedule that they simply cannot follow.