When couples with children divorce, custody of the children is one of the major aspects they focus on during negotiations. Once a child custody agreement has been reached, both parents must abide by the agreement. If either parent ignores the agreement, that parent might be found in contempt of court. Before an agreement is reached, it is important to understand the definitions of both physical and legal custody.
Physical custody basically deals with where a child resides. Legal custody, however, deals with the decisions made about the child’s life, such as education, religious upbringing and health, which can impact the child’s life long-term. There are two types of legal custody: joint legal custody and sole legal custody.
Joint legal custody means that even after a divorce both parents continue to share in any major decision making regarding the child. When considering the best interest of the child, courts will often award joint legal custody to the parents. Major decisions might include health choices, such as what doctor will treat the child and what kind of dental care the child receives, as well as how the child will be brought up and where the child will go to school. If there are extenuating circumstances, however, the court might find it in the best interest of the child to not award joint legal custody.
In such a situation, which can include one of the parents being unfit to make decisions or one parent having substance abuse problems, the other parent might file for sole custody. Sole custody means that one parent alone is responsible for the major decision making regarding the child. It does not mean that the child ceases the relationship with the non-custodial parent. It simply means that the custodial parent does not have to confer with the other parent about these decisions.
Source: FindLaw, “Legal Custody“, October 30, 2014