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When is it Appropriate for A Court to Order Joint Legal Custody?

The average resident of New York doesn’t have much of a reason to be up to date on legal jargon. This can be particularly problematic, though, when one runs into a custody issue. Suddenly, all of the legal terms thrown around by the court will become very important. Unfortunately, a lack of knowledge about these terms can leave many parents unsure about what it means to have a certain type of custody and when having that type of custody is important. Fortunately, the concept of joint custody is fairly easy to comprehend even without a significant background in the law, as are the courts’ reasons for choosing this type of custody arrangement.

What is Joint Legal Custody

If you find that you have been given joint custody of a child, the court generally means this to be joint legal custody. In this case, custody does not necessarily mean that you will have physical custody of your child – your child may live with you, the other parent, or may split his or her time among various households. Joint legal custody means that you and the other parent will have the joint ability to make decisions for your child. Typically speaking, this means you will have the ability to make decisions about schooling, medical decisions, and other major decisions of life.

Joint legal custody does not give you a right to have input on all matters concerning your child, especially if those matters are related to a physical custody agreement. Consider this type of custody as being more akin to an agreement that you will have a say in all of the major decisions that could change your child’s life. Without this type of custody, a parent has very little control over what will be decided for a child’s future.

When is it Appropriate?

As you might imagine, joint legal custody can be a tough prospect for some families. The courts generally agree to use this type of custody when the parents request it but are often loathe to recommend it as a matter of course. There are many different types of families, after all, and suggesting that joint legal custody should work for all of them would be disingenuous. Instead, there are a few situations in which joint legal custody is more likely to be recommended by the courts.

First and foremost, joint legal custody is recommended when it seems like the parties to the divorce actually have a chance of getting along well enough to make decisions together. This generally means that the divorce itself hasn’t been particularly acrimonious or that the parties have behaved themselves civilly during the process. It isn’t necessary for the parties to like one another, but the court must feel that the two will be able to work together to keep their child’s best interests in mind. If the couple shows that they are unable to comport themselves civilly during a divorce trial or if they reveal that they think this type of custody arrangement is unlikely to work, the court will usually avoid joint legal custody.

Joint legal custody should also be in the best interest of the child. If the court feels that the child would somehow be harmed by having both parents making decisions for him or her, it’s unlikely that a request for joint legal custody would be granted by the court. This typically occurs when it seems like one of the parties tends to act against the interests of the child or if one of the parties is so frequently absent that he or she could not be expected to make any major decisions.

As one might expect, joint legal custody can often go hand in hand with joint physical custody. If the child spends time with both parents, it only makes sense that both parents would have full parental rights. This is not always the case, however, if the child’s visits are supervised. Full joint physical custody certainly is not a requirement for joint legal custody, but it does go a long way to show that both parents are willing to work out a way to stay involved in the lives of their children. Having joint physical custody without having some form of joint legal custody is at best unwieldy and is quite unlikely in most situations.

Joint legal custody simply means that the parents both have the right to make major decisions for the child. If this type of custody doesn’t work out, the arrangement can be modified by the court. Having joint legal custody does mean that you retain the bulk of your parental rights, even if your child no longer resides with you. If you’re unsure about the type of custody you should pursue or are unsure about the order that was given to the court, it’s usually a good idea to consult your attorney to get a more thorough explanation of the law.