Legal custody, usually either joint legal custody or sole legal custody, is the decision legal right/responsibility for decision making regarding the children. It is not the amount of time each parent spends with the children.
The concept of what is included in legal decision making may vary from Judge to Judge, but generally encompasses major decisions in the areas of education, religion, and medical treatment of the children.
One Judge, a former family law attorney herself, recently put out a short list of the major decisions that would require both parent’s decision in a joint legal custody case. The Judge first clarifies that day to day decisions are to be made by the parent with whom the child is staying at a given time (for example, what type of cereal to have for breakfast or what cartoon characters to have on band-aids). These small day to day decisions do not require an agreement between both parents. However, the following decisions should be discussed by the parents in a joint legal custody case before proceeding:
1. Enrollment or termination of enrollment in a particular school or school program.
2. Advancing or holding back in school.
3. Beginning or ending the regular practice of a religion.
4. Arranging for child care providers for long term and/or after school child care.
5. Selecting non-emergency medical, dental, orthodontic and/or psychological services.
6. Authorizing the child’s driver’s license.
7. Authorizing employment for the child.
8. Authorizing the child’s marriage.
9. Authorizing the child’s enlistment into the Armed Forces.
10. Passport application for the child.
11. Authorizing sex education for the child.
12. Arranging or permitting regularly occurring extracurricular activities for the child.
13. Authorizing the purchase of an automobile for the child.
14. Authorizing or consenting to the minor donating blood.
The Judge clarified that this is not an exhaustive list, but rather a list to suggest the types of decisions that should be made jointly in joint custody cases. When the parties cannot reach an agreement, they should either seek mediation or Court involvement to resolve the conflict.