Difference Between Legal and Physical Custody
A parent is said to have physical custody when he or she has actual, physical custody of marital children on a day-to-day basis. In other words, the child and parent live together. Legal custody is a concept that is separate and distinct from physical custody. The parent with legal custody has the legal right to make important decisions about a child’s life, including decisions regarding their education and religious upbringing.
Joint Legal Custody
Historically, courts have awarded joint legal custody whenever possible. Public policy provides that joint legal custody promotes the best interests of the child, because it allows input from both parents in their child’s upbringing. Although it is not mandatory, joint legal custody is the expected outcome in most cases, absent a parent’s gross misconduct or abandonment of the child. Even if one parent has sole physical custody, courts typically award joint legal custody.
However, the concept of joint legal custody is always evolving. Professionals are taking note of how difficult it often is to implement joint legal custody in a peaceful, low-conflict manner. As such, mental health professionals, lawyers, judges, and parents are always striving to develop new and better models for sharing parental decision-making.
Issues with Implementing Joint Legal Custody
Parent of joint custody is for both parents to make major decisions that are in the best interests of the child, and that these decisions will be made equally. However, parents often divorce due to an inability to communicate and cooperate with each other, skills that are necessary when making important decisions regarding children. Thus, implementing joint legal custody arrangements is often fraught with conflict.
Minor decisions, such as what a child is to eat or wear, are made by the parent with physical custody. The definition as to what constitutes a major decision is often a source of conflict. Generally, a major decision is one that involves the health, education, and/or welfare of the child. These terms are so broad that it can be difficult to know when you need to consult the other parent. When parents disagree, the court is typically called upon to issue a ruling. Courts often guide parents to utilize mediation to resolve these disputes.
In light of these issues, one modern alternative is parenting coordination. This is a process where an independent third party (usually a lawyer or mental health professional) is appointed to serve as a coordinator, to facilitate low-conflict decision-making between parents with joint legal custody. Parents may call on more than one expert to help resolve more complex issues.
Another modern model for resolving conflict is called parallel parenting. Under this model, both parents have the right to make major decisions in their child’s life. For example, a child can be raised in two different faiths simultaneously. Depending on the conflict at issue, this is often an inexpensive, effective solution.
Mendham Child Custody Lawyers at Lyons & Associates, P.C. Guide Parents Through Divorce and Custody in New Jersey
Joint legal custody is thought of as best for children, but it can be difficult to implement. If you have questions about the best course of action for your family, contact the Mendham child custody lawyers at Lyons & Associates, P.C. Call our Somerville, New Jersey offices today at 908-575-9777 or complete our online contact form. We serve clients throughout New Jersey including those in Somerset County, Morris County, Union County, and Somerville, Bridgewater, Somerset, Basking Ridge, Mendham, and Morristown.