Joint legal custody is the legal term used to describe both parents sharing the rights and responsibilities of caring for children after a divorce or relationship split. Joint legal custody means that the major decisions about the child’s life are made by both parents. These major decisions may include those about education, health and dental care, emergency care, religious practices, extracurricular activities, among others. In a high-conflict divorce and/or custody situation, one can expect that disagreements will result in more litigation.

It has been our experience that absent serious issues regarding parental fitness, joint legal custody is very often the default judgment of the courts if the matter goes to hearings. Joint legal custody can be agreed upon by both parents via a parent plan and approved by the court. Should abuse, neglect, or violence be involved in some way the marriage or divorce, the courts are less likely to award joint legal custody. This is also why false allegations are often used to gain an upper-hand in court, so do remember to do what you can to protect against them.

Joint legal custody does not mean you have joint physical custody, too. In fact, it’s quite common for a child to reside primarily in one parent’s home but for the parents to still share joint legal custody.

Disagreements over matters that fall under the “joint legal custody umbrella” can be settled in a number of ways. Two of the most common are mediation and litigation.

Many times they are handled during mediations, either court ordered or party-agreed. Mediation dealings involve a neutral third party whose purpose is to facilitate a settlement between the two parents who disagree on a given issue or issues. If parents can’t resolve the matter in mediation, more than likely it will move to litigation.

With litigation, you go through another round of filing petitions, getting a hearing scheduled, and finally going before a judge. There, each party will make arguments as to why their choice is best for the child and a judge will decide. The terms of such a judgment are legally binding, and subject to punishment if violated (usually via more petitions and hearings for contempt-of-court).