Settling Child Custody and Visitation in New York: 4 Steps

Settling is recommended by judges, lawyers and other family law professionals as the best way to resolve a custody dispute.

Settling means parents reach an agreement and file it with the court to make it a final order. The process keeps decision-making in the parents' hands and can often lead to less animosity, faster resolution and significant cost savings.

Because of these benefits, New York uses mandatory conferences or appearances to encourage parents to settle and avoid trial. Parents can also settle through alternative dispute resolution methods.

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When parents have negotiated a parenting plan successfully, they'll follow the steps below, with some variation by county. If you have an attorney, they'll guide you through this process.

It's highly recommended that each parent hire an attorney, at least to review paperwork.

Before you begin: Determine your court

Family court approves settlements for unmarried parents, while supreme court handles cases involving divorce or separation. In both courts, you can file settlement paperwork while or after you open your case.

Step 1: Draft your parenting plan

New York requires a parenting plan if you settle your case. Your plan can be in any format that meets legal requirements.

You can use the Custody X Change parenting plan template for step-by-step help.

Your court may also have a parenting plan form available, such as the supreme court's parenting plan template.

Step 2: Complete your other paperwork

If your case is in family court...

If you have yet to open your case, complete General Form 17 and attach your parenting plan. On page 3 of the general form, put a check next to item 10 and write the date that both parents signed the plan. Have the general form notarized. Then make two additional copies of both documents.

If you've already opened your case, make two additional copies of your parenting plan, and skip to Step 3.

If you have a divorce case in supreme court...

To settle a divorce case, you must complete a stipulation of settlement. You'll have to draft your own or have a lawyer do it because New York doesn't provide an official form.

Your stipulation should specify terms including:

  • Division of property
  • Division of finances (e.g., who will be responsible for paying which bills)
  • Spousal support
  • Child support (if this isn't in your parenting plan)
  • How additional costs for the children will be covered (if this isn't in your parenting plan)

Attach your parenting plan to the stipulation. Then both parents must sign in front of a notary public. Finally, make two copies of everything.

Complete any other uncontested divorce documents you haven't given to the court yet. (If you're filing for uncontested divorce together, you'll use joint divorce paperwork instead.)

If you have a separation case in supreme court...

To legally separate, parents must complete a separation agreement. It should include the same terms as a stipulation of settlement (explained above) and any other separation matters relevant to your case.

Attach your parenting plan to the agreement. After both parents sign in front of a notary public, make two copies of everything.

At this point, you are separated via an out-of-court agreement, and you can skip to Step 4.

Typically, one parent moves out of the family home as part of the agreement. Unless specified otherwise, the agreement is considered invalid if parents begin living together again.

Step 3: Get a judge or referee's approval

If your case is in family court...

Now, turn in your documents to the court. Some courts let you file documents online.

You'll likely have to appear in court to confirm that you understand the agreement and are entering into it willingly. Judges will usually approve any agreement that is not harmful to the child, but they may be less likely to sign off if your family has a history of violence or substance abuse.

Certain counties allow court attorney referees to approve settlements.

Pick up your documents once the judge or referee has signed.

If you have a divorce case in supreme court...

Turn in your documents to the court clerk or file them online.

If everything is completed correctly and the custody terms serve your child's best interests, a judge will sign a Judgment of Divorce. You'll receive notice when you can pick up copies from the clerk.

At this point, your divorce is final. You can skip Step 4.

If you have a separation case in supreme court...

Jump to Step 4, in which you'll make your separation agreement legally enforceable.

Step 4: File with the court or county clerk

Next, take all three versions of your documents to the appropriate clerk. Unmarried parents file with the family court clerk, and parents who are legally separating file with the county clerk.

The clerk will keep the originals, and each parent will receive copies stamped as "filed."

Your agreement is now a final order. Keep it in a safe place.

After you've settled

If you want to modify the order, you can repeat the above process to submit a change to the court. If you and the other parent don't agree on the modification, you can try an alternative method of dispute resolution or ask the court to make a decision.

If you decide you want a divorce judgment with the same terms as your separation agreement, you must live apart from the other parent for at least one year after signing the agreement and follow its terms. Afterward, file for divorce in supreme court.

Following your settlement's terms

The custody journey continues after you receive final orders. Now your responsibilities include:

To do all of this and more, use Custody X Change.

The online app's customizable calendars, parent-to-parent messaging, expense tracker and parenting plan template will make life after settlement as straightforward as they made settlement itself.

Visualize your schedule. Get a written parenting plan. Calculate your parenting time.

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Explore examples of common schedules

Explore common schedules

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