Joint Legal Custody

Understanding Joint Legal Custody

Joint legal custody involves parental cooperation and sharing of responsibility for child care after a divorce. Parents have the option of deciding custody arrangements on their own. If there is any disagreement between parents, the family law court will decide custody based on the best interests of the children involved. Because mothers and fathers are so important to a child’s well being the court will often grant joint legal custody when it is truly beneficial to the child.

Joint legal custody in a divorce case has two components: joint legal custody and joint physical custody. Joint legal custody implies that both parents share in the responsibility of making major decisions that affect the child’s life. This can include decisions about school, health care, religious participation, extracurricular activities, discipline, and other things.

Equal Time

Joint physical custody means the amount of time spent with each parent. Joint physical custody involves where the child spends his/her weekdays and weekends, who will be responsible for the child during holidays, and how much time will be allocated to each parent. When joint physical custody is divided equally between two parents, it helps when the parents live in close proximity as this is often easier on the child’s social and emotional development.


Often decisions about joint legal custody are decided through mediation. Mediation involves a court-appointed or privately hired neutral third party who facilitates decisions about joint legal custody with the child’s best interest in mind. This can be a way to determine joint legal custody details without having to go to court. In mediation, the agreement on joint legal custody is a “stipulation” or parenting plan. If mediation does not result in an agreement, a judge will resolve the issues in a hearing. A lawyer is important to have through the mediation and court procedures when determining joint legal custody.

Parenting Plan

The parenting plan in joint legal custody cases involves agreeing on how to best facilitate your child’s need for love, affection, healthy diet, protection, medical care, and rest. This plan will outline the who, when, where, and how the child will be cared for. In all joint legal custody parenting plans, both parents have the right to information about their child, including school and medical records, have the right to call the child, and have the right to the other parent’s phone number and address.

Domestic Violence or Abuse

This, however, is not the case when domestic violence or abuse is involved in the situation. In cases where abuse or violence has occurred on behalf of one parent, joint legal custody is not likely to be awarded. In some states, the courts will allow this parent visitation rights if a third party is present and very specific court orders are followed.

For more information on joint legal custody of children in a divorce case, you may wish to speak to an attorney who can guide you through the process, protect your rights, and maximize your interests.