Definition of Legal Custody

Legal custody allows a parent to make the legal decisions for a child. Custody arrangements can also allow for joint legal custody where both parents can make legal decisions for the child. Common decisions which may be shared by parents, if parents have joint legal custody, include medical decisions, religious decisions and schooling decisions. If one parent has legal custody and the other does not, the legal custody parent does not have to confer with the other parent prior to making decisions for the child.

Joint legal custody is generally preferred by the courts unless it can be shown that one parent should not be making decisions for the child. Joint legal custody requires parents to communicate with one another prior to making choices for the child and consideration for the parent’s wishes are made regardless of whether or not they have joint physical custody of the child.

How do the courts determine child custody arrangements?

The methods used can vary by state, but generally the court considers the physical health of the parents, who has previously cared for the child, whether there has been physical or emotional abuse by either parent, whether there are siblings, the strengths and weaknesses of the parents, what the child wants, and whether the parents can have an amicable relationship with one another. The overriding factor, however, is what the court deems to be in the best interest of the child.

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