What Is Legal Custody?

Think about all the major decisions that parents have to make. Where should my child attend school? Is the school providing the best educational environment? How should I discipline my child when they mess up? What treatment option is the best for my child’s current ailment?

When we talk about legal custody, we refer to the right to make those major decisions. In many ways, legal custody is even more important than physical custody, as the effects of these major decisions can play out for years.

In this blog, Family Matters Law Group gives you the basics about legal custody and shows you what the court takes into account when choosing which parent to award custody.

What Is Legal Custody?

Legal custody is simply the ability to be a decision maker for your child. Legal custody can be sole custody (meaning one parent has all the major decision-making ability) or joint custody. It is rare that a court will award sole legal custody. Joint legal custody means both parents contribute to the final decision, but if they cannot agree after good faith communication one of the parents will be the “tie breaker.”

Joint custody usually refers to four major areas: education, non-emergency medical, religious and extracurricular activities. When a court awards joint legal custody, it may split the tie breaking authority between both parents (meaning mom gets medical and religion and dad gets education and extra curricular). It may even give one parent tie breaking authority over all four areas, even though joint custody is shared (this is usually the common practice, if you don’t have a good attorney fighting to split the tie breaking authority).

Also, keep in mind that just because the court awards joint legal custody, it does not mean that joint physical custody is part of the package. Physical and legal custody are decided separately.

Factors the Court Considers

The court will consider a host of factors when awarding legal custody. Some of these factors may include:

  • The age and health of the child.
  • The physical and mental health of each parent.
  • The knowledge and awareness by each parent of the child’s needs.
  • How connected the child is to their home and school.
  • Stability and emotional connection to each parent.
  • The employment status and income of each parent.
  • Any history of substance abuse or domestic violence.
  • Recommendations from experts or the guardian ad litem.
  • Willingness of each parent to communicate with each other in the best interests of the child.

Obviously, custody is very important for the well-being of the child, since major decisions are at stake. Perhaps the most important factor in being awarded joint legal custody is to demonstrate not only that you can make good decisions, but also a willingness to work with the other parent. The court would prefer to keep both parents involved in the lives of the children, as research shows a long-term benefit with that arrangement.

The Role of a Family Law Attorney

Having joint legal custody of your children gives you a say in the most important decisions of their lives. A caring, accomplished family attorney can make a huge difference in the outcome of your court case.

Fortunately, if you are in Henry, Clayton or Fayette counties (or any other Atlanta metro county), Family Matters Law Group has the expertise to help in your fight for custody of your child. Contact us online and we will arrange a consultation to hear your story. Let us help you fight for the decision-making ability you deserve.