You and your spouse have decided it’s time to file for divorce. Your main concern now is your children. You are relieved they won’t have to see you and your spouse fighting any longer, but you worry about their adjustment to a new living situation and your parenting options.

As you consider the best way to co-parent – and what’s best for your children – here are three important considerations.

Types of child custody

Broadly speaking, there are two types of child custody arrangements: sole and joint. If there is no court order or agreement of the parents, then each parent is considered to have equal rights to the children, regardless of the living arrangements. Sole custody is the right of one parent to make important life decisions on behalf of the children. These decisions may include:

  • Where will the children live?
  • Where will they go to school and what child care will they have?
  • In which religion will they be raised and in what organizations will they participate?
  • How will their mental health, psychological and other therapy needs be addressed?
  • How will their heath care needs be satisfied?
  • What to do about sports, summer camps, vacations and extracurricular activities?

Primary residential custody is typically granted to one parent, although it can be joint or shared by both parents. When one parent has sole or primary physical custody, the other parent typically has visitation rights, also called access rights.

Best interest of the child

If parents cannot agree to co-parent, the courts will decide the custody issues. New York State, like most states, places the best interest of each child at the heart of the decision when determining whether there will be sole or joint custody of children in a divorce.

The courts look at a number of factors in deciding what’s best for the children and who is best suited to take care of them. The court may also seek input from your children as to what they want, through the court appointed attorney for the children.

Tweaking the agreement if needed

The adjustment to co-parenting might take a while, so it’s normal for it to be difficult initially. However, if something truly is not working, it’s always possible to modify an existing child custody agreement. However, these modifications are not done lightly – typically, there has to be a substantial change in circumstances, such as loss of a job, a parent’s relocation for work or changes in a parent’s or child’s health care needs for a court to consider a change.

If you are getting a divorce and have children, you are understandably concerned about doing what is right for your children. If you have questions about your situation, you should speak to a family law attorney about your best legal options.