“What Does Joint Legal Custody Mean?”

There are two types of custody that every court considers in cases involving children: legal and physical custody. They are distinct concepts, and legal custody can be the most confusing.

Legal custody has to do with joint decision making; most parents will end up with joint legal custody unless one parent is unfit, unavailable, or refuses to co-parent.

Decisions that are joint decisions under joint legal custody include:

1. Decisions regarding schooling, including what school children should attend.
2. Decisions regarding medical treatments that are non-emergency.
3. Decisions regarding extra-curricular activities and religious training.
4. Decisions regarding counseling, tutors, or other professional help.

One of the major areas of tension in a joint legal custody situation can be notification of significant events. This can include school information, information about medical appointments, reports, sports schedules, or any other matter where both parents should have the information.

In general, both parents should share significant information, and they should do so in writing. This prevents future problems or allegations of lack of notice. This is particularly important where one parent is not participating in the child’s events. If that later becomes and issue regarding visitation or custody, it is important to be able to prove that you notified the other party of significant events.
It is often tempting to stop notifying the other parent if they do not respond, but you should continue to notify the other party
even so.

Sometimes, in unique situations, the court will give one party sole legal custody (decision making power) but will order that party to continue to provide complete information to be given to the other party. This allows the person who does not have legal custody to stay informed even if they do not have decision making ability. If this is the case, those orders for disclosure should be carefully followed.
Sometimes parents have problems co-parenting and making joint decisions. In those cases, the judge has several options. One is to leave joint legal custody as it is and let the parents work out their problems over time. Another is to order the parents to co-parenting counseling classes. These classes have a good rate of success and can help two parties that do not get along to find ways to nevertheless get through the co-parenting process. In extreme situations, the judge can decide that one party is at fault for the failure to co-parent, and give the other parent sole legal custody.

DISCLAIMER: All legal principles quoted are valid as of the date of writing in the State of California. However, you should NEVER base your actions on a legal article, blog, or internet story, as facts in real life are complicated. You should have your case evaluated by an attorney experienced in the area of law needed for your case. In addition, there are often exceptions and potential changes to results that occur due to facts that you may think are trivial or unimportant. This article should not be taken in any way as legal advice on your specific legal matter.