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What joint legal custody means for parents and children

California parents who do not share physical custody of their children after a divorce may still share legal custody. Joint legal custody means both parents have input into decisions about major issues in the child's life such as that child's schooling, health and religion. Parents might decide to share legal custody or a court might make this decision.

Sharing legal custody has some advantages. There are times when parents may appreciate being able to consult one another before making a difficult decision that will affect the well-being of their child. Joint legal custody can push parents toward a more functional coparenting relationship. Because they have to communicate effectively, parents may work harder to resolve their differences and reach solutions. It may be beneficial for children, in particular, to see their parents work together in this way.

Unfortunately, there is no guarantee they will be successful at resolving their differences. One parent might not even be acting in good faith or might try to manipulate the other parent and insist that parent has to agree. Joint legal custody may be a problem if one parent is unreliable and regularly ignores parenting duties. There may also be times when a decision must be made and consulting both parents is not practical.

Parents will need to make a decision about physical custody as well. Just as a court would, they should take the best interests of the child into account. They might be able to reach an agreement on both legal and physical custody through mediation. The experience of mediation might also prepare them to co-parent more effectively. However, even if parents are unable to reach an agreement and must go to court, they might still be able to share both legal and physical custody successfully if they both focus on good communication and the child's well-being.

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