Is Joint Legal Custody Right for My Family?

In family law litigation, many people spend thousands of dollars fighting over custody of their children. What does it even mean to have “custody”? Generally, when people refer to having custody, they are referring to being the legal custodian of a child. Having joint legal custody means that both parents have a voice in making major decisions affecting the child. Generally, having joint legal custody includes the following topics of joint decision-making:

1. Elective medical, dental, psychological, or other health care for the child.
2. Summer camps and activities for the child to attend.
3. Fashion and manner in which the child is to be disciplined.
4. Education decisions, including school the child will attend and the classes the child will take.
5. Extent of travel by the child away from home, including purpose, duration, mode of travel, chaperones, etc.
6. Religious upbringing of the child, including church schools and/or classes.
7. Organized recreational and extracurricular activities, including athletics in which the child shall participate.
8. Any other areas requiring decisions affecting the growth and development of the child.

Conversely, sole legal custody means that one parent can make all of these major decisions. Normal day-to-day decisions, such as your child attending a birthday party, are made by the parent exercising physical custody on that day.

How do you know whether joint legal custody is best for your child? First, it must be in the best interest of your child. [What is “best interest”?] Additionally, because joint legal custody requires joint decision-making, the parents must be able to communicate with one another to make decisions together regarding their child. Communications don’t have to take place in any certain format. Many parents communicate by using email or text messages to discuss decisions for their children. Additionally, there are apps, such as Family Wizard, through which parents can communicate.

If parents cannot cooperate with one another to make decisions for the child, then joint custody is not workable.  If there is hostility or animosity between the parents, a trial court is unlikely to award joint legal custody. Further, refusal by one parent to include the other parent in making decisions for the child does not support joint custody. A trial court will also look to see if the child is better off without input from both parents in making decisions. If a trial court determines that joint legal custody is not appropriate, then the trial court will look to award sole legal custody to the parent who will act in the child’s best interest, follow court orders, and promote the relationship between the child and the other parent.

If you want to be able to participate in making major decisions for your child, then you should make sure to have good communications with the other parent, without hostility, and always keeping in mind what is best for your child. [Disclaimer: Nothing contained herein is intended to be legal advice or to create an attorney-client relationship. Any information contained herein is for general information purposes only.]

By Pansy Moore-Shrier
624 South Boston Avenue, Ste. 1070 Tulsa, OK 74119
PH 918-592-3001
FX 918-794-7149