Joint Legal Custody Awards
“Joint legal custody” means that both parents share the right and the responsibility to make the decisions relating to the health, education, and welfare of a child.
An award of joint legal custody provides that both parents continue to be actively involved in rearing their child or children. Parents may agree to joint legal custody or it could be ordered by a court. In order for joint legal custody to work, the parents must be able to communicate with each other and to reach joint decisions as to the health and welfare of the child. In many states, there is a preference to grant joint custody, unless the court finds that one of the parents is unfit or abusive or if the parents cannot agree on the basic values used in raising the child. The fact that one parent does not want to share the decision making responsibilities is not a sufficient reason to deny joint legal custody. In appropriate situations, the court may grant joint custody, but give one parent the right to make certain decisions. As an example, where the parents have agreed to raise the child Catholic and only one parent is Catholic; that parent may be given the right to determine the religious education and church affiliation of the child.
Scope of Joint Decisions
Where there is joint legal custody, joint decision making includes deciding which school the child will attend. This is particularly important where the parents live in different school districts or if private or parochial school is being considered. If the child has special needs, the parents will have to agree on the course of treatment and the choice of doctors or other health care providers. It is better for the child if the parents can agree on the child’s religion and religious education. If the child has a special talent, such as basketball or ice skating, the parents should be able to agree on the best method of allowing the child to develop that talent. Although permission is not needed to take the child out of the country for a vacation, common curtesy requires that the parent wanting to do so give the other parent amply notice.
Joint legal custody does not provide a veto to the child’s activities while that child is with the other parent. A mother cannot prevent a father from taking the child on a camping trip, nor can the father bar the mother from introducing the child to her new male friend. Each parent can continue to make decisions on the daily activities of the child while that child is with the parent.
Copyright 2012 LexisNexis, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc.