As you and your soon-to-be ex negotiate — or perhaps battle — over how to share custody of your children, you’re probably focused primarily on physical custody. However, you also need to determine who will have legal custody over the children.
Legal custody refers to who has the authority to make decisions in significant areas of a child’s life, e.g., medical care, education and religious training and practices.
If you are seeking sole physical custody of your children, you may assume that you will also have sole legal custody of them. Even if you’re sharing physical custody, you may think it’s best for one parent (you) to have the legal authority over these crucial aspects of your child’s life. That may or may not be the case. Before you ask for sole legal custody, it’s essential to consider what it means.
There are advantages to sole legal custody. It’s often easier to make decisions, as you aren’t compelled to consult with your co-parent. It can prevent conflict if matters like schooling and religion are in your hands alone. If you and your co-parent have a difficult relationship, having shared legal custody can result in arguments and stalemates that only hurt the children.
If a decision must be made quickly, like one involving medical care, it’s best not to have to worry about your co-parent’s reaction later if they can’t be reached. However, if a child is with the parent without sole legal custody when that decision has to be made, the parent with legal custody may not be reachable.
If one parent gets sole legal custody, it’s crucial to determine what kind of decisions that parent has the authority to make. Otherwise, the other parent could — knowingly or unknowingly — overstep their bounds.
If parents live near each other and are both involved in their children’s lives, shared legal custody may be best. However, if you’re a considerable distance apart and it’s difficult to connect when you need to and/or if one parent has little involvement with the kids, it’s often better if major decisions are made by the parent who’s usually with the kids.
Before you decide what type of child custody arrangement you want to seek, consider what’s best for your kids. Your Austin family law attorney can also provide some guidance as you consider your options and as you work to seek whichever one you choose.