Must you be the primary caregiver to have joint legal custody?

Family law courts recognize the important contributions provided by each parent in a child’s life. For that reason, many courts may presume that divorcing parents will have joint legal custody. Under that approach, decisions involving big events or issues in a child’s life must be made jointly.

Keep in mind that legal custody is a separate matter from physical custody. For example, joint legal custody is possible even if a parent is not the primary caregiver. If one parent’s schedule or lifestyle does not permit the day-to-day care of children, the other spouse might be awarded sole physical custody. Major decisions affecting a child would still require the input of both parents, however.

Our law firm has helped many divorcing parents negotiate the details of their parenting time. Ideally, such discussions can occur outside of court, offering greater privacy to the parents and reducing court costs. Our experience is helpful in anticipating many potential issues at the front end. For example, a parenting plan may describe not only visitation schedules, but also how holidays and other special situations might be resolved.

We have also helped many military families work through child custody issues prompted by relocation. Such work-related conflicts may arise months or even years after a divorce has been finalized. In these instances, it is best to consult with an attorney. The likely course of action will be seeking a modification order from the court.

Of course, some less savory situations may also require court involvement. If one parent is no longer abiding by the terms of a parenting plan, such as keeping a child past visitation time or denying visitation to a parent, a court’s authority may be needed.