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What Does Joint Custody REALLY Mean?

Can I go back to family court and file for sole custody so I won’t have to talk to my child’s father anymore?
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Dr. Jann Blackstone
Dr. Jann Blackstone specializes in divorce, child custody, co-parenting, and stepfamily mediation

What Does Joint Custody REALLY Mean?

Dear Dr. Jann– I don’t get along with my children’s father and I cringe at the mere thought of having to talk to him. This makes decisions very difficult, especially when it’s about our daughter’s medical and educational needs. Can I go back to court and file for sole custody so I can be the decision maker and I won’t have to talk to him anymore?
Sincerely– Serious about Sole Custody

Dear Serious about Sole Custody– That’s not necessarily true. Although in some states sole custody means a parent has both legal and physical custody of the child, other states, like California, split child custody into two categories: legal custody and physical custody.

If parents have joint legal custody they are required to work together on a mutual decision when it comes to issues that affect the child’s welfare.

If parents have joint physical custody, it means the child actually lives in each parent’s home. If parents have joint legal custody, but one has sole physical custody, it means that the parents must work together on decisions concerning the child, but the child lives predominantly in one home.

The term “sole custody of the child,” means the party has the legal authority to make decisions about the child’s upbringing, from the professionals who will treat the child to school enrollment. Either way, a “custody” determination does not prevent the need to co-parent. No matter what custody designation has been assigned, it is still both parents responsibility to talk to the other, work together, and keep each other aware of the child’s progress when he or she is with you.

When is sole custody recommended?

When considering a decision in Family Law, the decision is based on “the best interest of the child.” Therefore, if a parent is absent, incarcerated, or it has been determined that the child is unsafe in a parent’s care, a determination for sole custody could follow.

What do you mean “unsafe”?

There are quite a few factors that might contribute to an “unsafe” finding. Notice I use the terms “might” and “could”. This is because the criteria for this determination is somewhat arbitrary and changes with each court, each state. They could include things like a parent has a drinking or drug problem and passes-out on the couch when the child is with him or her. The child gets hurt, a report to CPS follows, there then might be a change to sole custody to the other parent because the child was “unsafe.” Another scenario might be that a parent has a mental health diagnosis, is not med compliant and makes poor choices that put the child in danger when the child is in their care. (The key here is “poor choices”. Many people with a mental health diagnosis have custody of their children.) Or, the child could be the victim of domestic violence or have witnessed the parent perpetrate domestic violence and is traumatized as a result. These are just a few situations. The exact determination is often left to a judge.

Just remember, even when you have been awarded sole custody, the other parent still has the right to consult all the professionals that treat the child and stay informed on the child’s condition or progress in school. Sole custody does not mean the parent has given up his or her legal rights as a parent. It simply means one parent has the legal right and responsibility to make decisions.

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