What does it mean if I have joint legal custody?

When a divorce involves children, one of the most important considerations is how they children will be raised post-divorce.  Hopefully, the parents recognize that while they may no longer be spouses they remain connected as parents. Ideally, they can put aside their differences and work togther to promote the best interests of the child.  Sometimes this is possible, other times it is not.

What is Joint Legal Custody

When divorced parents share joint legal custody, they both remain empowered to be involved in the major decisions affecting the child such as education, religious training and non-emergencey medical care.  Acting a joint legal custodians requires open communication, cooperation, and an ability to remain focused on the child.  Understandably, some of these qualities may be lacking and may have contributed to the divorce. In the case of Hoefers v. Jones, 288 N.J. Super 590 (Ch. Div., 1994) the Court reminded parents that in order to wor properly, joint legal custody requires a common-sense approach to making decisions or the child so as to avoid deadlock and require “judicial tie-breaking and micro-family management.”  This requirement is highlighted in the NJ custody statute (N.J.S.A. 9:2-4) which has as it’s first factor “the parent’s ability to agree, communicate and cooperate in matters relating to the child.”

When conflicts arise

Two parents can disagree on what is best for their child.  Such a disagreement can be based on legitimate differences in cultural or religious approaches to various situations.  There can be conflciting options available to address a situation without either option being wrong or right.  What is important is that any such disagreements not stem from lingering animosity towards the other parent.

There are times when a “tie breaker” is needed so that the issue at hand can move forward.  These situations are best dealt with directly.  Working together, the parents can realize a quicker and less expensive resolution and one in which they have retained some measure of control.  Some cases require judicial intervention.  In a future post I’ll discuss an recent case in which the court had to resolve a dispute over medical care for a child.

About Sandy Durst

Sandy Durst, Esq., is the founding partner of The Durst Firm where he heads the Family Law Department. Individuals facing a divorce benefit from the combination of legal skill, common sense and compassion that Sandy brings to each and every matter. Each case is given the personalized attention it deserves.
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