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Child Custody Laws: What Does Joint Legal Custody Mean?


Legal custody and physical custody are two commonly confused terms in family law. When most people think of child custody, they are usually thinking in terms of physical custody. This is the type of custody that determines with whom the child will live. However, an equally important aspect of parental rights is legal custody. Having legal custody over a child means you have the right to make major life decisions on behalf of a minor. Yet, how does this play out when both parents share legal custody?

Legal Custody in Detail

Legal custody concerns the decision-making power over child rearing. However, these decisions relate to the big decisions about a child's present welfare, and future well-being. Under the umbrella of legal custody includes the right to decide on medical treatment, religious practices and educational programs. In essence, legal custody deals with more permanent decision making power than may occur in daily physical custody scenarios.

Dealing With Joint Custody

In most cases, a divorcing couple will receive joint legal custody over their children. Courts tend to award joint legal custody if both parents are fit, and it is in the child's best interests.

In a joint custody situation, both parents must be involved in long-term decision about the child. If one parent takes action without the other's approval, it could constitute a violation of court orders. Theoretically, the parents, although divorced, should be able to come to an agreement about issues that affect the child's life. In cases where joint legal custody turns into a constant battle, it may be best to consult with a custody lawyer.

When Joint Custody is Not Granted

As stated above, the courts will generally try to grant joint legal custody. Nonetheless, a court will deny joint custody when one of the parents demonstrates unfitness. The court will consider the person's past behavior, criminal convictions or drug use as grounds for exclusion from legal custody. Again, the court will look to the child's best interest in determining whether joint legal custody is appropriate.

If you need help fighting a child custody matter, contact T.R. Spencer Law Office. Get help from a custody lawyer who can assist in any area of family law. The firm also represents clients in grandparents' rights and guardianship cases.

child custody, joint custody, legal custody