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Understanding Joint Legal Custody

Understanding Joint Legal Custody

In a divorce involving children, custody case, or paternity action; parenting issues can stir a bitter custody battle. Our firm has litigated and won thousands of custody matters for our clients, and we know the importance of gaining, exercising and understanding parenting rights.

In Utah, two fundamental types of custody must be agreed upon by parents or decided by the court before a divorce can be granted. Those custody types are:

  • Physical custody

  • How will residential care of any children be divided?  Physical custody refers to the provision of shelter and daily care and services for minor children.
  • Legal custody

  • Major legal decisions include those involving health, education and other serious parenting decisions. Legal custody gives you the right to participate in decisions that have a major impact on your children.

In most cases, Utah courts prefer to award joint physical and legal custody. Unless there is a compelling reason not to award joint custody,  several types of joint physical and legal custody are possible.

With legal custody, most couples simply share the decision-making process as issues arise. For couples unable to work together, the court will sometimes grant decision-making authority to one parent for a certain issue such as education, while the other will retain authority for another issue, such as healthcare. In all cases, children benefit when parents work together on their behalf.

If you have joint legal custody and become aware that major decisions are being made outside your knowledge, you need to speak with your co-parent and then with an attorney. Despite joint legal custody, some parents willfully ignore the shared rights of the other parent. Such behavior could lead to correction by a judge through a contempt action or even eventual loss of legal custody for the noncompliant parent.

Items You Must Include in Your Child Custody Arrangement

Every child custody agreement will have its own unique elements. But in general, there are certain items you will absolutely want to include in your own agreement. Here are a few of those most essential elements:

  • Custody descriptors. You need to clearly outline who has both physical and legal custody of the children. Physical custody refers to who is the physical guardian, while legal custody refers to a parent’s ability to make decisions on the child’s behalf. There are different arrangements. Sole custody gives one parent both legal and physical custody, while joint custody gives both parents a shared amount of legal and physical custody.
  • Who makes certain decisions. If you want one parent to be in charge of specific decisions regarding the upbringing of the child, such as medical care, education, religion and extracurricular activities, it should be included in your custody agreement.
  • How you’ll divide costs. Raising a child is expensive. Even when taking child support into account, both parents will likely need to split certain costs. You should have a clear outline of who is in charge for which expenses — or how much of a particular expense. For example, who pays for medication? Who pays for school costs? Which parent claims the child as a dependent on tax returns?
  • When visitation will occur. If one parent has sole physical custody of the child, you should have a thorough, clear visitation schedule implemented in your child custody arrangement so there can be no debate later on about the non-custodial parent’s rights. This plan should address holidays, frequency of visitations and any other issues that could arise between you and your spouse.
  • Future plans. You need to leave some room for flexibility to either amend the agreement down the road or to cover how you will address general issues not currently covered by your agreement.

Free Consultation with Child Custody Lawyer

If you have a question about child custody question or if you need to collect back child support, please call Ascent Law at (801) 676-5506. We will help you.

Michael R. Anderson, JD

Ascent Law LLC
8833 S. Redwood Road, Suite C
West Jordan, Utah
84088 United States

Telephone: (801) 676-5506