Legal custody of a child means one parent has the right to make all decisions concerning their child’s upbringing. Joint legal custody means both parents have an equal, legal right when making decisions concerning their child’s upbringing. Children generally do better if both parents are significantly involved in their lives. If you and the other parent can make joint physical custody work, it will benefit your child. If you have legal custody of your child, you can make all decisions regarding issues such as schooling, religion, medical care, and housing. With legal custody, you do not have to take into consideration the wishes or opinions of the other parent regarding your child’s upbringing. The term “custody” refers to the legal and physical custody of a child. Legal custody is the authority to make decisions for and on a child.
Joint Legal Custody
Joint legal custody (also called shared legal custody, shared parental responsibility, etc.) is when parents share that authority. The alternative is sole legal custody, where one parent has full responsibility to make major decisions for the child. You need to specify in your parenting plan which legal custody option your family will use. This determines who makes decisions about your children’s education, medical care, religion and more.
Basics of joint legal custody
You can have joint legal custody with sole physical custody or joint physical custody, which determine who your child lives with. Joint legal custody is a way to give both parents a say in their child’s upbringing. It is meant for cases in which both parents are able and available to make important decisions. In many states, it is the default option or is at least preferred over sole legal custody. In these states, sole legal custody is awarded when joint legal custody isn’t in the best interest of the child.
How joint legal custody is shared
There are many ways parents can share legal custody. Your court may let you decide the specifics, or it may use one of the arrangements below (or a variation) as standard.
Option 1: Parents collaborate on all decisions, whenever feasible. For example, the parents decide together what school their child will attend and whether the child will go on a field trip.
Option 2: Each parent makes decisions for the child when the parent has physical custody. For example, if a teenage daughter asks about birth control while with one parent, that parent can decide whether to take her to a doctor.
Option 3: The parents make big decisions together, and each makes smaller decisions individually when he or she has physical custody of the child. For example, the parents decide together what school their child attends; if the child has a field trip, the parent who has physical custody during that time decides if he or she should go.
Option 4: Each parent has authority over certain types of decisions. For example, the mother has the authority to make decisions about school, and the father has authority to make decisions about religion.
Advantages of joint legal custody
When parents work together to make key decisions for their child, the child ultimately benefits. Continual communication among the child and his or her parents helps prevent isolation and other psychological issues that could stem from a feeling of loss following a divorce or separation. This allows a child to feel loved by both parents and important to them. Children who see their parents interact positively, as joint legal custody requires, learn to compromise and work through disagreements. A child is more likely to have a healthy self-esteem if his or her parents are able to collaborate. Sharing legal custody can also alleviate the burdens of parenting. Having the other parent’s input in difficult decisions can be welcome.
Drawbacks of joint legal custody
If you know that you and the other parent would not be able to share responsibilities regarding your child, joint legal custody is not for you. For some separated and divorced partners, an acrimonious relationship makes collaborating or even communicating with one another difficult. Family tension can hinder a parent’s ability to make decisions in the best interest of their child. Another thing to consider are the sacrifices joint legal custody can require. For example, you may want to limit your job search to areas near your child to make joint decision-making easier.
When joint legal custody works best
Joint legal custody works well when:
• Parents agree that a joint legal custody arrangement is in the best interest of the child
• Parents are willing to cooperate
• Both parents want to be very involved in raising their children
• Parents share fundamental values
• There is no history of child abuse, domestic violence or kidnapping.
• Parents live fairly close to each other and a joint arrangement is logistically possible.
Joint physical custody can work with almost any parenting time schedule. If your child needs to live primarily with one parent, you can give more time to the other parent with midweek visits, extended weekends, longer holiday breaks, and school break visits. The other parent can also have contact with the child through phone calls, email, texting, attending the child’s events and activities, etc. When parents share fundamental values, it’s easier for them to make effective decisions regarding their child’s school, extracurricular and religious arrangements. Co-parenting is less likely to be conflictive when parents are on roughly the same page regarding their children.
Common joint physical custody schedules
If you have joint physical custody, you need to make a parenting time schedule that shows when your child spends time with each parent.
Some common shared parenting time schedules are:
• Alternating weeks schedule when the child lives with one parent for one week and the other parent the next week
• Two weeks each schedule when the child lives with one parent for two weeks and the other parent the next two weeks
• 2-2-3 schedule where the child lives with one parent for two days, the other parent for two days and the parents alternate a three day weekend
• 2-2-5-5 schedule where the child lives with one parent for two days, the other parent for two days, then the first parent for five days and the second parent for five days
• 3-4-4-3 schedule where the child lives with one parent for three days, the other parent for four days, then the first parent for four days and the second parent for three days
• Every weekend schedule where the child lives with one parent during the week and the other parent for an extended weekend
• 4-3 schedule where the child lives with one parent for four days and the other parent for three days
You can always add midweek or overnight visits during the week to make the schedule better suited for your situation. You may want to use a visitation timeshare calculator when you make your schedule to ensure that both parents have substantial time with the children.
State preferences for joint physical custody
Many states have laws that give preference for joint physical custody. Courts in these states will order joint physical custody as the default unless a parent can prove that it would be harmful to the child. Look at your state custody guidelines to find out what your court prefers. Some states require that both parents have a minimum amount of time with the child in order for the arrangement to be labeled joint physical custody. Other states simply require both parents to have substantial and frequent contact with the child. Traditionally, there are two types of custody in family law matters – legal custody and physical custody (also known as parenting time in some jurisdictions). Both types of custody can be established as sole or joint custody. While much attention is given to determination of physical custody (where the child will reside, when and with whom), legal custody is vitally important and has the potential to cause future problems in high conflict cases.
Sharing Major Decisions
Legal custody gives you the right to make the major decisions that will affect your child’s life. Joint legal custody is a situation in which both parents share responsibility for those major decisions. These might include decisions about education, health and dental care, emergency care, religious practices, extracurricular activities, and more. Family law courts determine custody (both physical and legal) based upon the best interests of the child. Most courts will presume that both parents are willing and capable of working together to make major decisions for their child’s health, education and welfare. If one party or the other would rather have sole legal custody (sole decision-making authority), the onus will be on that party to demonstrate to the court the reasons that sole legal custody would be in the best interests of the child. Parents with joint legal custody do not necessarily need to be friendly but should be able to set aside their differences to make good decisions for their child. If parents have an extraordinarily high level of conflict or refuse to communicate with one another, the court may award sole legal custody to one parent (but may still require consultation with the other parent before making a major decision). If abuse, neglect, or violence involving the child or spouse has occurred, courts are unlikely to award joint legal custody.
Even in situations of joint legal custody, day-to-day decisions will be made by the parent with whom the children are at the time the decision is to be made. For example, a father with weekend visitation can decide what the children will eat and wear during that weekend. Both parents should be able to make emergency medical decisions for the child without consulting with the other parent if time and medical needs require immediate decisions. (The other parent should be notified of the medical situation as soon as practical.)
Inability to Agree
If one parent excludes the other from the decision-making process in a joint legal custody arrangement, the other parent can file a motion to enforce, a motion for contempt and/or a motion to modify custody based upon the refusal to abide by the custody order. In the event that parents with joint legal custody cannot agree on a major decision involving their child’s health, education or welfare, they can seek the assistance of a mediator – a neutral third-party who will help the parties reach an appropriate compromise or decision. In some jurisdictions, the parties may ask the judge to enter his or her order regarding the disputed issue after hearing evidence and argument. This can be extremely time-consuming and expensive however. In order to avoid those costs, the court may appoint a special master or arbitrator to hear the matter. Other jurisdictions might appoint a case manager to handle or decided day-to-day disagreements in high conflict cases.
Specificity in Parenting Agreement
Court orders of joint legal custody are generally fairly broadly written, referencing the vague notion of the child’s “health, education and welfare” or some similar language. Parties can use parenting or settlement agreements to attain more specificity in the responsibilities attendant to joint legal custody. Some of the issues which might be covered are the requirement to notify the other parent of non-emergency medical care; of the identity of the child’s teachers, day care providers, and health care providers; and of any school, church or extracurricular activities to which parents are invited. Parents are urged to approach the major decisions affecting their child’s life with the child’s best interests in mind – and not whether mom or dad “wins” a disagreement. The most successful joint legal custody situations do not require overly friendly exes – just mature parents who put their child’s needs first.
Joint Vs Sole Custody
During the divorce process, many Utah parents wonder how their decision to end their marriage will impact the relationships they have with their children. In order to protect their children’s well-being, parents will either be awarded joint or sole custody once their divorce is finalized.
In sole custody arrangements, according to the American Bar Association, one parent is responsible for taking care of his or her children the majority of the time. This parent is also responsible for making major decisions about his or her children. However, when sole custody is awarded, the noncustodial parent is almost always given visitation rights. When this occurs, this parent may be able to care for his or her children on overnight visits or during vacation periods.
When a joint custody arrangement is awarded, parents may either be given joint legal custody of their children, joint physical custody of their children or both. According to the Utah Courts, parents who have joint legal custody of their children have the authority to make major decisions about them. For example, in these situations, both parents have the right to determine what religion, if any, their children will participate in, where they will go to school and what type of medical care they will receive. Comparatively, joint physical custody means that the children spend at least 111 nights in the homes of each of their parents every year, states the Utah Courts. In these situations, it is usually best if the divorced parents are able to live near each other.
Factors the court considers
If parents devise a custody agreement with their ex-spouse and the court determines that it reflects the children’s best interests, this arrangement will be legally granted. However, if parents cannot come to an agreement, the decision of what type of custody will be awarded is left up to the court, states the Utah Courts. When determining what the children’s best interests are, the court will consider a number of different factors. These include some of the following:
• Which type of custody will benefit the children’s different emotional, physical and psychological needs
• Whether or not both parents participated in raising their children before ending their marriage
• The parents ability to work together and make joint decisions about their children
When a child custody determination is left up to the court, parents in Utah may have concerns about how these factors and others will affect their ability to acquire sole or joint custody. If you and your spouse have decided to end your marriage, speak with an attorney to receive legal guidance during this difficult time.
Joint Legal and Sole Physical Custody
The court system offers parents a number of options for custody arraignments. Each one comes with different rules and rights, though. The critical nature of court-assigned custody means it is in the child’s best interest if both parents consult attorneys to work out an agreement that suits the current situation. Our experienced attorneys at Wall & Wall Legal Solutions can help you every step of the way. In general, family courts see the benefit in a co-parenting scenario – one that gives both parents an active role in the child’s life once the divorce is finalized. The exception is if contact with one or both parents puts the child in danger – emotional or physical. As a parent, it’s important to develop an understanding of the varying degrees of custody, so you know your rights.
What is Joint Legal and Sole Physical Custody?
When the judge decides the optimal choice for the child is joint legal and sole physical custody, this means that child stays with one parent for more than 225 nights each year. The parent without physical custody has regular visitations and still makes decisions for the child. The goal is to provide the child with a stable home life. This is often a more practical choice if both parents work or if the child is attending school.
What is the Difference between Legal and Physical Custody?
The biggest difference is found in the decision-making process. A parent with legal custody is in charge of making all important decisions for the well being of the child. Physical custody, on the other hand, involves the place of residence or where the child lives most of the time.
What Does Joint Legal Entail?
The state of Utah defines joint legal custody as allowing both parents:
• Duties or responsibilities
Joint legal custody puts both parents in a decision-making role. No one parent can make an important choice for that child without the approval of the other. For example, it takes both parents to decide on:
• A school
• A health treatment or care plan
• A safety issue
• A religion
When the judge assigns joint legal custody, it is because that is the best option for the child even if it’s not necessarily what the parents want. Utah law tends to favor this custody arraignment because it gives children a chance to have both parents active in their lives, even if they live in one home most of the time.
What Does Sole Physical Entail?
Under the law, sole physical custody means that a child lives with the custodial parent most of the time – specifically 255 or more nights a year. The non-custodial parents still have the right to standard visitation, usually about 86 overnight visits broken up in various ways, such as:
• Every other weekend
• One weekend evening
• Four weeks during the summer with at least two uninterrupted weeks
When a parent has sole physical custody, the courts strive to establish physical residency, and in some states, that role goes to whoever was the primary caregiver during the marriage. It has less to do with making critical life choices for the child than just establishing a stable home and some familiarity.
Utah Divorce Attorney
When you need legal help with a divorce in Utah, please call Ascent Law LLC for your free consultation (801) 676-5506. We want to help you.
8833 S. Redwood Road, Suite C
West Jordan, Utah
84088 United States
Telephone: (801) 676-5506