Key to joint legal custody is communication
There are two types of child custody. The first, physical custody, is about where the child lives and spends his or her time. The second is legal custody. Legal custody is separate and distinct from physical custody. The court may determine each separately. You may have legal custody, without having physical custody.
Legal custody involves the basic legal responsibility to make major decisions regarding the child, including those related to health, education, and religious upbringing. Joint legal custody requires the parents to cooperate, communicate, and compromise to meet the best interests of their child. In joint legal custody, the parents must consult with each other to make major decisions regarding the child’s upbringing. When the parents with joint legal custody reach an impasse so that they cannot agree, they may petition the court to decide what is in the best interests of the child.
Generally, a parent with joint legal custody has the right to access the child’s school, medical, and other records. They have the right to know what is going on with the child, and to give input into those decisions.
The Nevada Supreme Court has acknowledged that minor day-to-day decisions are generally made by the parent with whom the child resides. However, if the residential parent assumes such control it does not mean that the other parent has no rights. Indeed, most courts look favorably upon a parent with primary physical custody who volunteers legal custody information, including doing things like: copying emails from teachers to the other parent; talking about what sports to enroll the child in before making that decision alone; providing contact information for the children’s teachers, coaches, and doctors; and providing advance notice of the children’s medical appointments, school events, and extracurricular activities. Conversely, a parent who impedes this kind of information exchange may compromise their position with the family judge if their matter ever returns to court.
Some of the common mistakes parents make in joint legal custody, which later affects them in court, is the failure to communicate regarding what extra curricular activities the child is enrolled in. When a residential parent unilaterally decides to enroll a child in sports, that deprives the other parent of his right to participate in parenting. It may have additional financial ramifications, if the cost is to be split, and may affect parenting time if games or practice is during the other parent’s time.
Another common error made in joint legal custody, is when the residential parent lists their new spouse or live-in significant other as the primary contact for the child above the other parent. In the most egregious cases, the biological parent is not even listed which would preclude her from getting information from the child’s teachers, coaches, or doctors. If this happens in a sports situation, it would mean that the step-parent gets a call if the child is injured before the actual parent does. Then, if the parent calls the ER to check on her child, she could be denied access to any information.
There is a very simple fix: Make sure that the parents are always listed as the first two primary contacts. Make sure teachers copy both parents with emails. When you set a doctors appointment, send a quick email to that effect to the other parent. Send an email to the other parent before making a decision on sports or extra-curricular activities. Communication is the key.
Co-parenting after divorce can be difficult. In joint legal custody, both parents have the equal right and equal responsibility to make parenting decisions for the child. There are some common mistakes that can be easily avoided, smoothing your working relationship with the other parent and preventing further court battles.
Cassandra Jones is an elder law and family law attorney in Gardnerville. She can be reached at 782-0040.