Legal custody is when a parent is assigned the right and obligation to make key decisions about how to raise a child, as well as other important factors concerning a child’s wellbeing. This can include matters such as medical and dental care, education and religious instructions. In majority of states and for most child custody cases, legal custody is granted to both parents, which is known as “joint legal custody”.
This means that the responsibility is shared by the two parents, unless it is proven that one parent is unfit or unable to make sound decisions regarding the child’s welfare. Legal custody is entirely different from physical custody, wherein issues about where the child will live and with which parent he or she will stay are addressed.
Throughout a marriage, spouses collaborate in order to make decisions for their child. When a divorce takes place, the judges aim to keep the system as it is, if possible. For most states, the standard preference is that parents receive joint legal custody and for them to continue to work together for the best interests of their child, even after a divorce is finalized.
Legal custody can take several forms. It is common that one parent serves as the primary caregiver in a marriage, whether it is intact or divorced, such as instances involving authorization of medical emergencies or making last-minute decisions for the child’s welfare. Though the other spouse is legally allowed to be part of the decision-making, the parents should discuss between themselves and come up how to handle their child’s affairs practically. Most parents agree that it might be simpler if one parent receives a bigger bulk of the day-to-day duty.
Reasons for getting sole legal custody
In a joint legal custody, there are a lot of potential complications that may arise. Parents might find it hard to work together and agree on decisions, paving the way for arguments and other misunderstandings. When even the simplest of matters are being fought over, decision-making becomes a tedious task.
As far as judges are concerned, parents have to work together to make key choices for their child’s welfare. If they find that parents are constantly in conflict when it comes to their child and his or her affairs, they prioritize what they think is to the child’s best interests. As a result, a judge may opt to grant sole legal custody to one parent. Having sole legal custody means that the assigned parent is the only one legally responsible for making decisions related to critical factors in a child’s life. One parent may be given sole legal custody if the other parent:
- Is negligent or abusive
- Makes no effort to spend time with the child or be involved in the child’s life
- Lives a significant distance away
Another possible scenario would be for a judge to grant joint legal custody but assign one parent to become the “decider” in case both parents cannot come to an agreement. While this is quite similar to a sole legal custody, it does not fully eliminate the other parent’s rights to get involved with the child.
Possible complications in legal custody
When both parents have shared joint legal custody but the other parent decides to exclude him or her from making significant choices for the child, the matter can be brought to court and the restricted spouse may ask the judge to enforce the original custody agreement. In such cases, no fines or jail time are involved. However, it can become costly because of legal fees. It can also be demeaning on the part of the spouse and can result in more tension between the parents, which will undoubtedly affect the children.
If you find that sharing joint legal custody with the other parent is insufferable (you’re your ex-partner is abusive or negligent), you may apply for sole legal custody in court. Take note that most states favor joint legal custody for children, so you will have to prove to a family court judge that that sole legal custody of your child is undoubtedly for the best.