Legal Custody

What Legal Custody Means in California

Legal custody defines what a parent can and cannot do as it relates to making decisions for their children. There are two types of legal custody: sole and joint.  A parent with sole legal custody is able to make decisions about their child’s health, education, and welfare without consulting the other parent.  This is in accordance with California Family Code (Fam. Code. §3006) which also states that joint legal custody requires both parents to share in the decision making responsibilities (Fam. Code §3003).

In California, parents are usually awarded joint legal custody unless there is a dispute.  In fact, sole legal custody is a rare occurrence. Courts may grant sole legal custody if one of the parents has a documented behavior that places the child in harm’s way. This could happen if a parent has a criminal record that included abuse or drug use.  One parent may get sole legal custody if the other parent is simply not around and does not have a relationship with the child.  But these cases are not the norm.  Parents should expect to receive joint legal custody which will be strictly enforced by the courts.

Joint legal custody can be a bit tricky. One parent cannot make decisions that affect the child’s health, education, and welfare without informing the other parent.  For example, if a parent plans to take the child for a routine medical exam, they are legally required to notify the other parent who has the right to be present for the appointment.  Both parents must agree on decisions that impact the child.

Parents are also prohibited from making major educational decisions in a vacuum.  One parent cannot enroll the child in an education program or school without the express consent of the other parent.  Parents who violate these custody orders can have their rights restricted by the courts.

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