Can You and Your Ex Handle Joint Child Custody?

November 5, 2015

There are usually two issues to consider when negotiating child custody in a divorce case. The two parents must decide who is going to be the children’s legal and physical guardians following the breakup of the marriage. These two categories are not mutually exclusive. Often, one parent can take on the role of both legal and physical guardian, other times the couple opts for joint custody.

When there is contention, however, it’s important to rely upon the guidance of a knowledgeable divorce lawyer who can explain your rights and assist you in making decisions that will be beneficial for you and your children — not only today, but in the long run.

Physical custody may be somewhat easier to decide; it’s essentially where the child will primarily reside. Often, physical custody goes to the parent remaining in the marital home; this allows the children to be near friends and remain at the same school. However, if both parents live in the same town and opt to have the children go back and forth between houses, joint physical custody is certainly an option. There are important things to consider when making this decision but the stakes are a bit higher when it comes to legal custody.

If you have “legal custody” of your kids, it means you are taking the responsibility for decision-making about all things important in their lives. You will have the ultimate choice about where they attend school, when they need to see a doctor, and so much more. If you take on sole legal custody, then your ex can only offer input to any decision that needs to be made. However, if, for example, you decide to hire a tutor for your child, your ex won’t be able to prevent you from doing so.

Generally speaking, if left to a judge, joint legal custody is often in the best interests of the child. This is only true, however, if all things are equal and both parents are thought to be of sound judgment. Even if you agree to joint custody, you can still decide to be the primary caregiver. This will put you in the driver’s seat when it comes to everyday decisions such as when the child needs a haircut, for example. The legal nuance, of course, is that contrary to sole custody, you will have to come to an agreement with the other legal custodial parent about major decisions.

If you and your ex can agree on joint custody with a primary caregiver, it often creates a supportive environment for the child. The kids know who to rely on for concerns of daily living but understand that both parents are working together when it comes to the bigger picture.

All of that being said, joint legal custody only works if the two parents can act as a team when it comes to their children’s best interests. If it is clear to a judge that this is not possible, the judge may opt to give one parent sole legal custody. Other times a judge may opt to choose one parent to make legal decisions include if one of the parents live far away and therefore can’t be involved in the child’s day-to-day life; if one parent doesn’t show interest in spending time with the child even though they live closeby; if the parent has been abusive or has an inclination to be neglectful.

You’ve never been cavaliere about making decisions when it comes to your children before. Don’t start now. Deciding on legal and physical child custody are decisions that you’ll all have to live with for many years. Know your rights and make sure you are legally protected and guided by a skilled divorce lawyer like Jonathan Katz, Esq. for a consultation about your personal family situation.

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