The Family Law Leader

Q: What is the difference between sole legal custody and joint legal custody?

A: Every custody order contains language determining the legal and physical custody arrangements for a child.  With joint legal custody, the parents are charged with the responsibility of working together and communicating with respect to the major decisions involved in raising the children. Among the most important of these are where the child will attend school, medical decision-making, and religious instruction. Typical examples of decisions that require the input of both parents include whether the child will attend public or private school, vaccinations or surgeries, and whether the child will be involved in religious instruction or various extracurricular activities that may require participation and support by both parents.

Before ordering joint custody, the judge in any custody case must examine whether the parents are generally able to communicate and agree regarding the important decisions involved in bringing up their children. If the parents cannot work together, the court will award sole legal  custody to one or the other of them. The parent with legal custody will then have the right to make the important decisions. However, the noncustodial parent still has the right to access medical records and school records for the child, and even in situations when one party has sole legal custody, the noncustodial parent in most cases has the right to frequent and liberal parenting time with the children.

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