California Family Code 3003 defines the term joint legal custody to mean that both parents shall share the right and the responsibility to make the decisions relating to the health, education, and welfare of a child.
Joint legal custody means both parents will share in the right and responsibility to make decisions regarding their children's health, education and general welfare. But what decisions does this really mean? Do parents have to agree on everything? Does this give one parent veto power? Can parents make unilateral decisions about anything?
With joint legal custody, parents should both be involved whenit comes to decisions regarding attendance and withdrawal of school, majormedical decisions, and travel. Whilethese are the most common situations where joint legal custody applies, it isnot the only circumstances. Many timesthe circumstances of when parents need to agree are specifically defined in thejoint legal custody order.
Family Code §3083 states:
“In making an order of joint legal custody, the court shall specify the circumstances under which the consent of both parents is required to be obtained in order to exercise legal control of the child and the consequences of the failure to obtain mutual consent. In all other circumstances, either parent acting alone may exercise legal control of the child. An order of joint legal custody shall not be construed to permit an action that is inconsistent with the physical custody order unless the action is expressly authorized by the court.”
It is best for the order to be specific regarding the situations where both parents must consent. If not, “all other circumstances” can be interpreted that either parent can act alone in any circumstance not specifically defined. While “every circumstance” would result in 100 page orders that would still not include an unforeseen circumstance, it is best to define any foreseeable circumstances. And it is here we can give guidance on what situations may merit mentioning. The most common situations where the parents may want to consider a consent provision:
1. Enrollment in or leaving a particular private or public school or daycare center
2. Participation in particular religious activities or institutions
3. Beginning or ending psychiatric, psychological, or other mental health counseling or therapy
4. Selection of a doctor, dentist, or other health professional, except in emergency situations
5. Participation in extracurricular activities
6. Out of country out-of-state travel
Some parents may want significantly more added to the list and some parents may believe the above is too much. Every case is going to be different.
When it comes to joint legal custody, specific orders are best unless there is a compelling reason to be more vague. We prefer and recommend to our clients for the joint legal custody terms be specific so in the event of a disagreement, there is no confusion as to whether consent is or is not required.