1. People & Relationships
You can opt-out at any time. Please refer to our privacy policy for contact information.

The Difference Between Legal Custody and Joint Legal Custody

By

Dad and teen kids at home looking at smartphone
Yellow Dog Productions/Iconica/Getty Images

Legal and Joint Legal Custody

Legal custody of a child means a 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.

If you have legal custody of your child you can make all decisions regarding such issues 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.

In most courts though, parents are awarded joint legal custody. In joint legal custody both parents share decisions about the child’s upbringing. Both parents have to communicate with each other and come to a common decision on such issues as schooling, religion, medical care and housing.

If you have joint legal custody and leave your ex out of the decision making process you could be found in contempt of court.

For example, John and Jean have two children. They share joint legal custody of the children with John being the parent with physical custody. The children live with John but Jean has the same legal rights as John when making major decisions about the children.

John harbors a lot of anger toward Jean because she cheated and left him to raise the children when she chose another man over him. In John’s opinion, Jean gave up any right to any say so over the children’s lives when she abandoned the marriage and left her children.

John stubbornly refuses to communicate with Jean and often makes decisions regarding the children without first getting input from Jean. Due to his behavior John is opening the door for Jean to take him back to court for contempt. And, if she so desires a requested change in custody due to John’s refusal to grant her, her legal rights according to the courts.

If you feel you and your ex will be unable to communicate and co-parent your children you should consider requesting sole legal custody. Be informed though that most states prefer awarding joint legal custody. In other words, when it comes to custody it is best to put your anger away and treat your ex civilly for the sake of your children.

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.