joint custody

Joint and Sole Legal Custody by Cassandra Hearn

Custody is a crucial issue for any parent. However, there is a difference between legal and physical custody. While physical custody refers to where the child lives and what custody schedule the child follows, legal custody is a different issue altogether.


Legal custody refers to the ability to make decisions about the child's life. These decisions include areas such as non-emergency health care, extracurricular activities, religious upbringing, and where the child will go to school. In any custody order, whether that is a divorce or a custody action when the parents were never married, the court will make a determination on whether the parents will share joint legal custody, or if one parent will have sole legal custody.


Joint legal custody means the parents need to work together to make these major decisions. It requires that the parents cooperate and keep an open line of communication to discuss the issues. Joint legal custody is by far the more common outcome in child custody cases in California. It is important to note, however, that just because the parents share joint legal custody does not mean that the parents will share joint physical custody. As previously mentioned, the two issues are completely separate.


Sole legal custody, by contrast, means that one parent has the sole decision making authority in these areas. Sole legal custody is less common, as the hope is that although parents are no longer living together as a nuclear family, they should still work together for the benefit of their child. The reality is, however, that this is not always possible. Either parent may ask for sole legal custody from the judge. Sole legal custody may be granted in cases where, for example, the parents have a history of an inability to cooperate or work together, there is a history of domestic violence, one of the parents is not capable of making these decisions, or one of the parents is deemed an unfit parent. Like almost all other determinations, the judge will make the decision based on what is in the best interest of the child. As with joint legal and physical custody, just because a parent has sole legal custody does not automatically mean that parent has sole physical custody.


For more information on whether sole or joint legal custody would benefit your custody arrangement, call us today at 619-800-0384. We will discuss your individual case with you, talk about your goals, and how to achieve them.