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

When it comes to custody, it can be confusing for parents who don’t understand legal terminology. Even once the custody agreement is finalized, some parents still aren’t clear on what level of custody they have, and what they’re allowed to make decisions about within that level of custody. Even the word “custody” itself is unclear, because parents don’t know if it relates to legal or physical custody, and what “total custody” would take into account.

Even if it’s not easy to understand at first, especially if you’ve never read a custody agreement, these agreements do usually clarify the different aspects of your custody situation, including physical and legal custody, joint or sole custody, and other terms. You may want to have a Long Island divorce lawyer look over your custodial agreement to better understand it.

Joint Custody

Usually, if you see “joint custody” in your agreement, this means joint legal custody. Legal custody is different from physical custody. Legal custody means that the parent (or both parents, if you have joint custody) will decide importation issues for the child, like medical or educational decisions.

In amicable divorce proceedings, it’s common for both parents to agree to joint legal custody, and most judges will happily approve it. Joint custody won’t be pushed on a family, though. If parents are going to court to figure out legal custody, the feeling is that the parents aren’t getting along well enough to make this decision, and therefore a judge has to decide the best route.

Most professionals in the child custody field feel that courts will only approve joint custody if both parties ask for or agree to it. The point of joint custody is that one parent cannot make a decision that the other parent doesn’t agree to; no one person can override the other person. If a couple isn’t able to agree on having joint custody during proceedings, it’s assumed that they won’t be able to agree on decisions involving the child, either, and that decisions may not get made at all. In the court’s eyes, this requires one parent to have the ability to make the decisions so that decisions do, in fact, get made. The point is to avoid a stalemate so that the child is able to have decisions made for them.

Alternatives to Straightforward Legal Custody

There’s an arrangement that’s dubbed joint legal custody with spheres of influence. This means that the parents share decision making power, but only are able to make decisions within certain categories. For example, the mother may be allowed to make all of the medical decisions, while the father has full control over education decisions.

Some professionals feel that even if joint legal custody can’t be appointed, because the parents aren’t able to make decisions together, that doesn’t mean that join physical custody shouldn’t be awarded. Ultimately, there are all sorts of outcomes that parents and their child can face, based on specifics of the parents’ relationship.

How Legal and Physical Custody Affect One Another

During a custody battle, when one parent is given full physical custody over the other parent, awarding joint legal custody can help balance things out a bit more. This can have a better psychological impact on the non-custodial parent as well as the child. The parent who the child does not live with still has some decision-making power and influence in their child’s life, which can help the child to grow and develop better.

Temporary Orders and Finalized Orders

While a custody case is pending, it’s common for the court to issue a temporary order. It’s important to understand that this order is not permanent and that it doesn’t necessarily reflect or affect the eventual outcome of the hearing. For example, if litigation is pending, the court may issue a temporary visitation schedule just so both parents can spend time with the child under a more permanent agreement is reached. Once it’s time to finalize the agreement, the judge will decide if the original, temporary visitation schedule is appropriate or if it should be amended to better suit all parties. Sometimes the temporary order is transitioned into a permanent order, while other times it’s adapted.

Once the custody order has been finalized, it’s still possible for one or both parents to request changes. A petition will be required to try to change the decision. It’s also possible that the agreement can be tweaked if circumstances change. For example, maybe one or both parents are unhappy with the visitation schedule, or they’ve decided that they can make decisions together and would prefer joint custody. It’s always best to speak with a lawyer first so that you can present your case to the court in the best way possible.

Working Out Custody Issues

Custody is an incredibly complex issue, and one that’s very difficult for parents to understand if this is their first time dealing with custody. Even if one parent was awarded custody during the trial, if both parents decide after the hearing that they want to share custody, it’s possible to have the agreement updated. While custody agreements often feel like they’re set in stone, they can be modified at times. Contact our Long Island divorce lawyers today to help you with your divorce and family law issues.

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