Joint Legal Custody—meaningless?

In any kind of child custody case in California, the vast majority of non-custodial parents get awarded joint legal custody. Great—but what does it mean? Do now all of the major decisions in the child’s life have to be made jointly ? Simple answer–no.  Family Code § 3083 defines joint legal custody as where either party, acting alone, may exercise legal control of the child.  Therefore  as one of the child’s legal custodian you can  take him/or her to the Hospital to get medical care. If little Dick or Jane wants a tattoo, you can authorized that.  What joint legal custody doesn’t give you is joint decision making regarding the child. Unless the Court specifies what areas joint consent is required, the custodial parent will always win out in the event of a conflict. Why? Because Family Code § 3048 states that any exercise of joint legal custody cannot be inconsistent with the physical custody order … Meaning?  If the custodial parent lives in Glendale and you, the non-custodial parent but a holder of joint legal custody, lives in Torrance, you have the legal right to enroll little Dick or Jane in school in Torrance — but that wouldn’t hold-up, because the custodial parent lives in Glendale and going to school in Torrance would be inconsistent with the physical custody order. What to do? Make sure that when the Court makes an order of joint legal custody, that it specifies the area where where mutual consent is required. Otherwise, joint legal custody is meaningless.

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