Settling Child Custody and Visitation in New York: 4 Steps

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

Settling means parents reach an agreement and file 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.

Custody X Change is software that creates parenting plans and schedules for your custody settlement.

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

It's highly recommended that parents each hire an attorney, at least to review their paperwork. Agreements — especially separation agreements and stipulations of settlement — can be lengthy and dense due to the number of issues they must consider. A professional will ensure your draft covers all the bases.

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, including the Custody X Change template. Your court may also have parenting plan forms available, such as the supreme court's parenting plan template.

Step 2: Complete your paperwork
If your case is in family court...

If you're filing for settlement while opening your case, attach your parenting plan to your custody petition. On page 3 of the petition, check the box beside paragraph 11 and specify the date you and the other parent signed the plan.

If you've already opened your case, 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. Since New York doesn't have an official form, you can draft your own.

Your stipulation should specify terms including:

  • Division of property
  • Who's responsible for paying which bills
  • Child and spousal support
  • How additional costs for the children will be covered

After you attach your parenting plan to the stipulation, both parents must sign in front of a notary public.

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, then both parents must sign in front of a notary public. At this point, you are separated via an out-of-court agreement, and you can skip Step 3.

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 original documents and two copies to your judge. 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 had a history of violence or substance abuse.

Some counties allow court attorney referees to approve settlements.

You can pick up the forms once the judge or referee has signed.

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

Turn in your stipulation and parenting plan to the court clerk. If everything is completed satisfactorily and the custody terms serve your children's best interests, a judge will sign a Judgment of Divorce. You will receive notice when you can pickup copies from the clerk.

At this point, your divorce is final, and 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 three versions (an original and two copies) of your documents to the appropriate court 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 ask the court to make a decision or try an alternative method of dispute resolution.

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 with one tool, use Custody X Change. The app's calendars, journal, expenses tracker and parenting plan template will make life after settlement as straightforward as the settlement process itself.

Custody X Change is software that creates parenting plans and schedules for your custody settlement.

Prepare My Settlement Now

Custody X Change is software that creates parenting plans and schedules for your custody settlement.

Prepare My Settlement