Types of Child Custody, Part II

Joint legal custody allows both parents to share the important decisions affecting the children.  This works out only when the parents can communicate effectively with each other and reach a consensus regarding the children’s best interests.  Divorcing couples frequently have trouble communicating with each other about anything – particularly the children.

Before a court will award joint legal custody, the judge must determine that the parents can communicate effectively with each other.  Where the parents cannot communicate, then the judge must choose which parent should be the legal custodian.  Often that determination is made by looking at the history of the parent’s relationship to the children. If one parent has been primarily responsible for the children’s health care and education, it is more likely that the parent will be awarded primary legal custody.  In some cases, the court will split the decision-making authority by awarding one parent primary legal custody over educational decisions and the other parent primary responsibility over health care decisions.

Shared legal custody with tie-breaking authority awarded to one parent is a compromise that allows both parents to participate in important decisions affecting their children.  Usually the parties are required to consult with each other before making important decisions affecting the children and if they cannot reach an agreement, then one parent will make the final decision.  If the other parent disagrees and believes that the decision is not in the best interests of the children, then he or she can file a motion with the court to prevent the action from occurring. 

Also, shared or joint legal custody allows both parents equal access to the children’s health and educational records and providers.  Unless a parent has been largely absent from the children’s lives, he or she will likely be able to participate in these decisions and have access to the children’s records even if the parent does not make the final decision.  This joint access to the children’s school records and health care providers takes some of the burden off the parent with primary legal custody. 

Instead of having to provide these records to the other parent, each parent can get these records or talk to the children’s teachers and health care providers.  Where one parent has primary legal custody, the other parent has no access to this information which usually means that the primary custodian has to provide the other parent with this information.  Typically, a parent without joint legal custody will complain that the legal custodian doesn’t provide school notices and report cards.  Where the parents share legal custody, each parent has independent access to school notices, report cards and medical records reducing conflicts between the parents.