It takes two people to create a child. As such, we have found that those individuals who have two parental figures have a tendency to do better in life than those with a single parent. But this is a generalization rather than some kind of universal law because sometimes a parent can be the worst person for a child to be around.
When it comes to custody, there is physical custody, and then there is legal custody. We’ll be talking about the difference between these two forms of custody below, but our primary focus is on the concept of joint legal custody. That is, the sharing of legal custody between two parents that have been separated.
To understand if joint legal custody is always a good idea, we first must understand exactly what joint legal custody entails. Then, with this at hand, we can explore the pros and the cons of joint legal custody. Remember, however, that each individual case is different; this means that what may be a good idea for one set of parents would be a bad idea for another. It’s important to carefully weigh each pro and con based on the specifics of your unique situation.
What Exactly Is Joint Legal Custody?
Custody refers to how parents are able to make decisions for their children. However, custody itself comes in two key varieties: physical and legal. These can then be further divided into sole and joint custody.
So to understand what joint legal custody is, we need first to explore these categories. Let’s begin with physical custody and legal custody:
- Physical Custody: Physical custody refers to the household that the child lives in. If the mother of the child was given physical custody of the child during divorce proceedings, then the child would live with the mother. The father would still be able to see their child at certain times, as laid out in the agreement.
- Legal Custody: This refers to a parent’s ability to make decisions on behalf of their child. This includes important decisions such as what school the child will attend, what religion they will be brought up in, and the like. It also includes vital decisions such as what medical treatments the child will receive.
Both physical custody and legal custody are important to establish. However, each of them can be granted in sole or joint versions.
- Sole Custody: When sole custody is granted it means that one parent has more rights than the other. Sole physical custody would mean that one parent has more time with the child than the other (and, depending on the circumstances, the other parent may have no rights to see the child). Sole custody is easier to understand in legal matters because it simply means that one parent has the right to make decisions while the other does not.
- Joint Custody: Joint custody means that the parents share responsibility when it comes to decision making. Joint physical custody would allow both parents to spend significant time with the child, though that does not necessarily mean that the time spent will be equal. Joint legal custody means that both parents are responsible for making major decisions regarding the child’s life.
What Are the Pros of Joint Legal Custody?
There are quite a few pros to joint legal custody. However, these are often matched by the list of cons that we’ll be looking at next.
The pros to joint legal custody include (but are not limited to):
- Both parents feel like they are respected by the court and can share in the important decisions that impact their child
- Neither parent is left feeling resentment and this can result in less conflict
- Neither parent is made to feel overwhelmed by being the sole individual responsible for making decisions
- Both parents are able to be involved in the life of the child and this means that the child is more likely to feel like they are loved and cared for by each parent
- It can help to foster better communication between parents, as both must work together in making decisions
Unfortunately, many of these pros will depend on the individual parents.
What Are the Cons of Joint Legal Custody?
Some of the pros above may directly conflict with the cons in this list. As mentioned, it will depend largely on the relationship of the parents and how they react.
The cons of joint legal custody include (but are not limited to):
- It can increase conflict between the parents that was already present
- New conflict may arise as arguments over certain decisions arise
- Making decisions may be harder, as neither side can seem to agree with the other
- Confusion may arise as to what decisions a parent is allowed to make without contacting the other
- If one parent is hard to contact, it can interfere with the other being able to make decisions for the child
- There is less consistency compared to sole legal custody, as one parent cannot make all the decisions
- Increases the likelihood that one parent withholds their consent to certain decisions as a form of hostage-taking to hurt the other parent or merely stand in their way
Which is Better: Joint Legal Custody or Sole Legal Custody?
Answering that question on a website would be a disservice to those looking for answers. The truth of the matter is that sole legal custody and joint legal custody can both be good, but they can also both be bad.
In order to determine which is best for you and your family, you should contact an experienced custody lawyer who will take the time to sit down with you and learn the unique circumstances of your situation. Without being able to share your circumstances, you shouldn’t take what you read as any type of concrete legal advice because it will not reflect what makes your situation unique.
An attorney will be able to offer advice that is directly relevant to your situation, and therefore you can be sure it will reflect what is best for you and your family.