What Is Joint Custody With Spheres Of Influence?

Parents agree to joint custody

Joint custody with spheres of influence is a type of joint legal custody arrangement in which each parent has primary responsibility for making major decisions about certain aspects of the child’s care, typically either education, medical care, or religion. Joint custody with spheres of influence allows both parents to be able to share decision-making based upon their strengths and weaknesses, and also can minimize conflict between the parents. The spheres of influence approach may be particularly appropriate when there are signs of parental alienation.

Joint custody with spheres of influence is a somewhat novel approach which is primarily used in some New York City Courts. New York Courts have often grappled with the fact that, under New York Law, traditional joint custody, which means the sharing of major decision making between the parents, can only be ordered if both parents agree to it. New York Law is very different from the law in most other states, where there is a presumption that parents will share decision making.

The problem with the New York law regarding joint custody is that the parent who ends up having physical custody usually gets final decision making on all important issues, while the other parent (usually the father) only gets visitation. For the noncustodial parent who has been very involved in the child or children’s life, this is can be a very bitter pill to swallow, and can also be a bitter pill to swallow for judges.

Advantages Of The Spheres Of Influence Approach

The spheres of influence approach can be a way of convincing the parties to settle the case in a way that they both perceive as fair. Statistics show that parties who settle a case amicably are more likely to actually obey court orders than parties who go through a contested trial. When parties settle a case they are also less likely to return to court over and over again which, most experts agree, creates constant conflict which is bad for the children.

Another advantage is that, in situations where the parties will not agree to joint custody, the court can order spheres of influence after a trial. In some situations one of the parents has a track record of making bad decisions in one particular area, such as medical decisions or educational decisions, and the court can give final say in that area to the other parent.

the spheres of influence approach can also encourage respect between the parents, and allow for more flexibility in decision making.

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Disadvantages Of The Spheres Of Influence Approach

There are no statistical studies that show that the spheres of influence approach results in a larger percentage of “favorable outcomes”. The spheres of influence approach may also be hard to implement if the parents have trouble communication or cooperation with one another. Sometimes the parent who has physical custody will be able to make all major decisions despite the order, which will require coming back to court anyway.

Some Judge have had bad experiences with this approach and will refuse to order it.

Spheres Of Influence And The Forensic Evaluator

Many contested custody cases include an evaluation and a written report by a forensic evaluator. Because evaluators are expensive, forensic evaluations are more common in high net worth cases.

The forensic evaluator probably has his or her own opinion about spheres of influence, and unless the lawyers already know from other cases what the expert’s opinion is, they must be prepared to cross examine the expert on this issue. Another option is to hire a “peer review” expert to testify in favor of the spheres of influence approach.

How To Draft A Proposed Order

Because joint custody only pertains to major decisions, it is helpful to define in a proposed order which decisions are considered to be major. Although most orders define the spheres of influence as being either education, medical, or religion, the parties can be more flexible and can, for example, give one parent the final decision making as to which college the child or children will attend, while giving the other parent the final decision making for elementary, middle school, or high school. It is sometimes necessary to specify how parents will communicate with one other, i.e. by phone, email, or text.

Orders often include a clause whereby either parent can make medical decisions in an emergency which occurs while the child is with one parent.