Legal Custody

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What is Legal Custody?

When the court awards the child’s physical custody to one parent, it does not necessarily mean that the other parent has no involvement in the child’s upbringing. The non-custodial parent may share legal custody, which gives them a say in major decisions affecting the child’s life. These decisions may include vital aspects such as the choice of school, medical and dental care, extra-curricular activities, private tutoring, religious instruction, and cultural upbringing.

Legal custody in Orange County is usually awarded as joint legal custody to both parents. In exceptional cases, where the court determines that one parent is incapable or unfit to make decisions related to the child’s life, sole legal custody may be awarded to the other parent. In such case, the custodial parent will also have the sole authority to make key decisions about the child’s upbringing.

The family court judges in Orange County may award sole legal custody only in rare situations, where the other parent has a history of child abuse, child neglect, domestic violence or drug/alcohol abuse. But in general, the courts believe that the child’s best interests are served when both parents have joint legal custody.

Cooperation Matters in Joint Legal Custody

If the parents are awarded the child’s joint legal custody, they should make an effort to maintain a cooperative approach towards each other, and focus on the child’s welfare rather than their own differences or issues. For example: if the custodial parent wants to change the child’s school, they are legally required to consult with the co-parent and arrive at a mutual decision quite like they would if they were married.

Similarly, if the custodial parent wants the child to attend Christian church, while the other parent wants the child to be a Catholic, they will need to find some common ground because they are both legal custodians. In these cases, either one parent may agree to step back, or the parents can agree that the child will attend both churches. The child’s own preference should be considered if he or she is old enough to make a personal choice.

What Decisions are covered under Legal Custody?

Legal custody, whether sole or joint, will allow a parent to make decisions about the child’s welfare in matters including:

  • Where the child resides
  • The choice of school
  • The choice of sports and extra-curricular activities
  • Healthcare and dental care decisions
  • Counseling for mental health, if necessary
  • Religious and cultural upbringing
  • Vacations, summer camps, and travel

In joint legal custody, it is necessary that co-parents must agree on every single decision. They can make their life easier by letting one parent make a decision in a matter where he or she is best positioned to decide. Co-parents should engage in open communication and act with rationality in order to keep things out of court during the course of the child’s upbringing.

How does the Court Decide on Joint or Sole Physical or Legal Custody?

While deciding on custody matters, the family courts in Orange County will take into account numerous factors, such as:

  • Do both parents have full- or part-time occupations outside the home?
  • What are the average daily work hours of each parent?
  • Does either parent have flexible work schedules to be able to personally attend to the child’s care, doctor or dentist visits, school activities and events, and emergencies?
  • Does the nature of work of one parent involve frequent travel?
  • Is it a high conflict divorce or have the parents demonstrated an ability to cooperate?
  • Does a parent have a history of substance abuse or currently struggles with it?
  • Does a parent have a serious physical or mental health problem?
  • Does a parent have a track record of domestic abuse?
  • Have there been incidents of child neglect or child abuse?
  • Are the parents able to communicate with each other?
  • Can the child’s visitation occur with minimal disruption to his or her daily routine?
  • Does the child have any special needs?
  • Whether the child is below the school-going age?
  • Prior to the divorce, did both or one of the parents act as the primary caretakers of the child?

Seasoned Attorneys can Help You Resolve Legal Custody Disputes

Custody battles can be emotionally challenging for both sides, and the children are bound to bear the brunt. California custody laws are complex, and you will need legal guidance from an experienced child custody attorney in Orange County. Considering the potentially life-altering consequences of child custody decisions for you and your child, make sure you hire the services of a top-rated divorce law firm.

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