Divorced parents in New York who have joint legal custody may not share physical custody as well. It is not uncommon for one parent to have visitation rights but also share legal custody with the custodial parent. Legal custody gives parents the right to make decisions for a child about issues such as religion, medical care and education.

Sharing legal custody has both its rewards and challenges. It may actually help parents develop a more functional relationship even if they are not necessarily there to start with. Because it requires communication and reaching a consensus on what are often difficult issues, parents may learn to work through conflict. It can also be healthy for children to see this process unfolding. On the other hand, simply having joint legal custody is no guarantee that this will happen. Parents may not be able to agree. One parent might even become manipulative and insist that the other has to acquiesce because of the shared custody.

When the relationship is working, parents may appreciate that they are not left to make such important decisions about the child alone. The insights of the other parent can be helpful. However, there is no clear framework for success in sharing legal custody, and parents may feel frustrated sometimes. Joint legal custody can also be difficult if one person is not a very involved parent.

Alternative dispute resolution processes such as mediation might help parents work through some conflict during the divorce process and prepare for co-parenting. Whether they share physical custody or one parent has custody while the other has visitation rights, parents might create a plan that establishes consistent rules between their homes, and it might also address some of the issues that may come up around legal custody. For example, it might specify which parent takes the child to religious services.