Joint “Legal Custody” and Separate Spheres of “Decision-Making”

legal custody New York Courts decide child custody based on the child’s best interests. They distinguish “joint legal child custody” from “joint physical child custody” where the child lives with each parent for a specific period of time. In the joint legal custody arrangement, the child lives with one parent (also called the “residential parent”) and both parents have the right to participate in the major decisions on behalf of their child. In this custodial model, both parents jointly make decisions with respect to the child’s important issues — such as education, medical treatments, religion, and the choice of an after school program or extra-curricular activities or summer camp.

When Parents Cannot Overcome Animosity to Each Other

In situations where parents cannot put aside their animosity and their hostility against each other, joint legal custody is not realistic and the New York courts will not force hostile and antagonistic parents to engage in joint decision-making for their child. However, in recent years, the courts have determined a child’s physical custody while, at the same time, assigning different aspects or “spheres” or “zones” of major decision-making to each parent.

Major decisions include: the child’s or children’s educational parameters; managing and treating medical conditions and doctor assignment; religious practice; choosing of schools; participation in extracurricular activities, including after school and recreational programs, tutoring, summer camp, etc.

“Spheres” of Major Decision Making

In cases where Joint Legal Custody is not appropriate, the courts can grant “spheres” of major decision-making power to each parent, by limiting joint decisions to one or two issues only. The NY Courts have also awarded final decision-making authority to one parent, on condition that he or she is required to first consult with the other parent concerning significant decisions, except in cases of emergency.


In conclusion, the Courts will grant spheres of decision-making to each parent instead of full custody to only one parent, in the following circumstances:

  1. In cases where it is obvious that joint legal custody is not appropriate;
  2. Where a parent interferes with the other’s relationship with the child;
  3. When a parent cannot make appropriate decisions for the child;
  4. In cases in which it is in a child’s best interests to maintain both parents meaningful involvement in the child’s life;
  5. To take advantage of the strengths, demonstrated ability, or expressed interest of the non- custodial parent regarding a particular aspect of child-rearing; and
  6. Where one parent will facilitate the relationship between the other parent and the child.
Get Legal Help

Parents who do not have residential custody often feel relegated to the sidelines. However, when courts can be persuaded to carve out zones of decision-making to be allotted to each parent, they involve the non-custodial parent in the life of the child in a significant and meaningful way. Whether you are a custodial or non-custodial parent, if you have questions or issues to discuss relative to the decision-making of your child’s or children’s lives contact child custody attorney Ingrid Gherman. Her knowledge in this specific area will help you to clarify and your rights and responsibilities and to navigate the legal channels. Call (212) 941-0767 or send the on-line inquiry form.