What Rights Do I Have With Joint Legal Custody?

Imagine this situation: you are divorced, but have joint legal custody with your wife. Your teenage son has been getting into trouble at school. Your wife believes that your son has started hanging with a bad crowd and might even be doing drugs. She would like to send your son off to a military school to instill some discipline.

You, on the other hand, see things differently. You believe your son is slipping through the cracks and is not being challenged in his current school. You would prefer to see him change schools (to one more focused on his individual needs) and get therapy for any substance abuse.

Who is right in this situation?  Which parent gets to make the call?  Does a judge have to intervene? What rights do you have and how do you make sure your voice is heard?  Family Matters Law Group is your best option for an Atlanta divorce attorney.  We would like to shed some light on what it means to have joint custody.

What Is Joint Legal Custody?

While most people think of custody in terms of where the child is going to live, legal custody refers to who gets to make the important decisions. In essence, legal custody relates to four major items in a child’s life: education, health, extracurricular activities and religion. When parents are awarded joint legal custody the court must determine which one of the parents will have the final decision making authority when they cannot agree.

The judge may split the categories, giving one parent final say-so of education and medical decisions, for example, with the other handling everything else. In a situation where parents have joint legal custody, the ‘final decision making authority’ must be assigned to one of the parents .

What Happens When The Final Decision Is Not The Right Decision?

In the case above, the two parents are at odds about what is in the best interest of their teenage son. This is normal; parents often must have difficult conversations about what needs to happen with their children. In this case, however, the parents have joint custody, and there are multiple categories affected: education and mental health.

fighting parents

So, what happens if both parents share decision-making for these categories, but can’t work things out? Depending upon who has the final decision, the teenager may end up in military school and not receive treatment for the abuse. At this point, it’s time to talk to an attorney, who can advise you better on what the divorce papers say should happen. Regardless, the first question your attorney will ask is whether or not you have made a good faith effort to resolve the disagreement with your ex.

If you really have tried to work things out, then it might be time to file a petition with the court. If the situation is one where it is impossible for both parents to collaborate and work things out, then a judge may need to decide.

In a joint custody case, if a parent is trying to move away with the child, you will have to go to court. Because the parents share joint legal custody, geographic distance may be a factor in whether a parent can assist in making the decisions the court says they are entitled to make. So, the parent wishing to move or the parent wishing the child to remain in the state will have to petition the court to modify the terms of the original order.

Joint legal custody is a good thing in that it prevents one parent from having ultimate decision making authority over those four main categories. However, it can result in disagreements. So, parents need to be aware of their responsibility to collaborate and communicate with each other when conflict arises over a major decision in the life of the child.

An Experienced Family Attorney Can Help

An experienced family law attorney can help mediate major disagreements before they wind up in front of a judge. Keep in mind that the standard for any resolution will be what is in the best interests of the child, not what is convenient for one or both parents.

If you are faced with a significant decision concerning your child, and you have joint legal custody, ask yourself what category does this decision fall under?  Do you have final say in that particular category? If not, then you need to consult with an attorney so that they can advise you how to proceed.

Family Matters Law Group handles clients in Clayton, Henry, Fayette and Fulton counties. We have negotiated joint legal custody agreements, and have helped resolve disputes related to pre-existing agreements. If you are faced with a thorny problem, like the parents discussed in this article, let us help you by contacting us online.