The Obligations and Responsibilities of Joint Legal Custody

Joint legal custody creates certain obligations and responsibilities of parents.  Joint legal custody requires that parents cooperate with each other for the benefit of their child or children.  Joint legal custody imposes upon the parents an obligation to behave in a mature, civilized and cooperative manner in carrying out the joint custody arrangement.  This means avoiding antagonism.

Joint legal custody means the parents share information with each other.  They must communicate and discuss things about their children and work together to make the best decisions for their children.

One trial judge wrote that “Joint custody means giving to both parents an equal voice in the children’s education, upbringing, and general welfare.”  And this is a very good definition of joint legal custody.  But the practical side of joint legal custody is that the residential custodial parent is the one running the day to day operation of parenting.  They need not consult with the other parent on most day to day issues.  It is very important that the parties agree as to what issues they need to consult with each other upon and about what issues they need to keep each other informed and what issues really will just work out by themselves.

Joint legal custody requires parents to be to speak to each other.  Where parents can or will only communicate with each other by email and text messages, joint custody may not be appropriate.  Joint legal custody also requires parents to share information with each other.  For example, in a case where a father did not inform the mother that their child had a medical condition that required surgery, until an hour before the child underwent surgery for the condition, the court terminated joint legal custody and awarded sole legal custody to the mother.

Joint legal custody does not mean that parents have to like each other or get along with respect to anything other than their children.  Nor should it.  After all, people separate and divorce for many reasons, two of the most common are that they do not like each other or get along with respect to most anything.

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