One of the best ways, when working through separation and divorce, to support your children and maintain those all-important family bonds is through open decision-making and clear communication. Whether that means joint physical custody or shared legal custody, or even sole physical custody with thorough, informal discussions, both parents must agree to work in the best interests of the child, always.

Custody Complexity in the Commonwealth

We turn to an authority on legal child custody in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Namely, uh, the Commonwealth of Virginia and its courts:

What is Custody?

Custody is the care, control, and maintenance of a child. A child’s parents are both presumed to be the natural and proper custodians. However, the court may be asked to determine the custody of children in some circumstances. The best interest of the child guides the court’s decision. There are several types of custody:

  • Joint legal custody is when both parents retain joint responsibility for the care and control of the child and joint authority to make decisions concerning the child, even though the child’s primary residence may be with only one parent.
  • Joint physical custody is where both parents share physical and custodial care of the child.
  • Sole custody gives a parent the primary responsibility for the care of the child. That parent makes all the daily decisions about his/her child’s life.

Joint Legal Decision Making

When attorneys discuss joint decision making regarding a child’s well-being in a Virginia separation and divorce, the attorneys are generally referring to joint legal decision making. The legal decisions parents make on behalf of their children are many and often easily overlooked:

  • Educational opportunities, including public or private school, tutoring, extracurricular activities, summer camps, and private lessons
  • Religious matters, including a choice of faith or no faith, observances of religious holidays and ceremonies, body modifications or medical exemptions made on religious grounds, and religious activities beyond typical sabbath observances
  • Physical wellbeing, including needs for therapy, proper diet and nutrition, athletics, dance or drama, social groups, and friendships
  • Medical concerns, including vaccinations, checkups, height and weight (growth and development), sexual health, and STD prevention
  • Dental problems, including regular checkups, X-rays, orthodonture, and extractions (such as wisdom teeth in the teen years)
  • Mental health, including needs for counseling, therapy, retreats, and personal growth (self esteem, and body image)

That time you sent Seymour to two weeks of slumber camp at AstroCamp Virginia? You did that as his legal custodian. Even when you drag your kid, kicking and screaming, for the six-month dental checkup, you do so as the child’s legal custodian and guardian.

You don’t need the sanction and approval of the courts to make those joint legal decisions. You need open, clear communication with full hearts and honest heads.

Suppose the children’s mother has sole legal custody. She could make every decision without you. If she is wise and has her kids’ interests foremost in her mind, though, she will at least bounce those decisions off of you.

What Sole Legal Custody Means

Having sole legal custody, like everything in life, has its good and bad points. As sole legal custodian, you bear the entire burden of making those soul-wrenching decisions, even terrifying ones in hospital emergency rooms. Then, too, you also enjoy the efficiency and speed of making decisions without consulting the children’s other parent. The other parent (and your kids) may whine, but they have no legal standing.

Few parents, though, want to bear the entire decision-making duty by themselves. When you and your attorney, and your spouse and your spouse’s attorney, are sitting down to craft an equitable property settlement agreement, you can build in joint decision making as a concept. Here is the wording offered by one jurisdiction:

“Joint Legal Decision Making” means joint legal decision making or joint physical legal decision making, or both.

“Joint Legal Decision Making” means the condition under which both parents share legal decision making and neither parent’s rights are superior except with respect to specified decisions as set forth by the court or the parents in the final judgment or order.

That is, Except …

Please pay careful attention to “except with respect to specific decisions as set forth,” because you and the children’s other parent can craft the agreement any way you want, before a judge gets a gander at it.

Let’s say you want complete joint decision-making on routine matters such as ear piercings and summer camp and field trips. Yet if, God Forbid, you are faced with life-altering medical decisions, you both agree that only one of you should carry that weight, then write that into your agreement.

A good family law attorney will safeguard not only your rights, but your children’s rights, too. Contact The Firm For Men today to make it happen, whether you are dealing with separation or divorce. You may also call our offices at (757) 383-9184.