In a family law context, “Legal Custody” is a type of child custody that grants a parent the right to make important, long-term decisions regarding their child or children.  This may include aspects of the child’s upbringing including:

  • Education
  • Medical and dental care
  • Religious upbringing
  • Financial decisions

Legal custody usually interacts with another concept called “physical custody”, which refers to issues such as the child’s residence.  In many cases, both parents can be awarded with a combination of different legal and physical custody rights.

Which Parent Can Be Granted Legal Custody?

Modernly, most courts attempt to grant both parents equal rights with regards to legal custody.  This is to help the child interact with both parents rather than just one.  However, in some cases, the court may grant only one parent legal custody.  This is especially true where one of the parents is deemed unfit to make decisions on behalf of the child.

When determining which parent should be granted legal custody, the courts may consider many different aspects, including:

  • The parent’s mental, physical, and emotional ability to make legal decisions on behalf of another person
  • The relational history between the child and the parent
  • Whether there has been any history of abuse, neglect, or other violations
  • The arrangement between the parents regarding distribution of physical custody

As with any child custody decisions, legal custody determinations are made with the “best interests of the child” in mind.  This means that the needs of the child take preference over any personal desires or intentions of either parent.

What is Joint Legal Custody?

Joint legal custody is where each parent is granted equal rights with regards to decision-making for the child.  This is an ideal arrangement for situations where the parents are able to communicate with one another freely, and where they can reach reasonable decisions on a mutual basis. 

Joint legal custody orders are legally binding.  If the parents have been granted joint legal custody, but the one attempts to exclude the other from decision making, they could face legal consequences, such as a contempt order.  In some cases, a custody order can be subject to modification in the event that new life factors arise for the child or for either parent.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Help With Legal Custody Issues?

Legal custody is a major aspect of any custody determination.  If you need assistance with the child custody laws in your area, you may wish to hire a qualified custody lawyer for help.  Your attorney can instruct you on your rights with regard to legal custody, and can provide you with representation if you will be attending any court hearings.