Can She Do That? The Importance Of Legal Custody

legal custodyBy Jill A. Duffy

Divorce Attorney, Cordell & Cordell

Many fathers who do not have primary physical custody of their children have questions about what the mother can do while the child is in her care:

Can she cut the child’s hair? Does she have to tell me when she leaves town with the children? Can I stop her from having my children around her boyfriend? Can she change school districts?

The ability to make decisions about your child, and what they are doing, is called legal custody.

Most divorces leave parents with joint legal custody. This means that both parents can be involved with decisions regarding important decisions affecting the child’s welfare.

Normally, the parent who has physical custody of the child can make routine decisions about the child when the child is with them. Parents with joint legal custody must share the decision making on important decisions.

What is an important decision varies with each family. In most families cutting a child’s hair is more of a routine matter, but for religious, or other reasons, it may be important enough for the parents to have to come to an agreement on it.

Decisions that are normally regarded as important decisions, which require collaboration of the parents, are education choices, religious upbringing, and major health concerns.

For example, the custodial parent would have to ask and reach an agreement with the other parent before allowing the child to undergo surgery, but does not need to consult the other parent in an emergency or routine medical decision.

If parents with joint legal custody cannot decide on an important issue affecting their child, one party can petition the court to decide. The court will make a decision based on the best interests of the child.

Many fathers do not like their ex-wife’s new boyfriend. After the divorce is final, the ex-wife is allowed to have the children around her new partner. If you feel the new boyfriend is abusive or harmful to the children you should document what is occurring and ask your ex to keep him away from the children.

If she does not do this, or if the children are hurt or abused while in the care of the boyfriend, you should immediately inform your state’s child protective services and petition the court for an order prohibiting contact with the abusive person.

If you know of issues that may come up or know of a disagreement between you and your ex-spouse that will lead to a dispute, you should inform your attorney so that a procedure to resolve the issues can be incorporated in the custody order entered at the time of divorce.

Fortunately, child custody orders can be revisited after the divorce is finalized. If there is a change in circumstances, your ex wife refuses to cooperate with you, or she refuses to abide by the custody order, the issues can always be revisited by the judge.

Cordell & Cordell:

Child Custody Attorneys

Jill A. Duffy is an Associate Attorney in the Troy, Mich., office of Cordell & Cordell. She is licensed to practice in the state of Michigan. Ms. Duffy received her BA in Psychology and Spanish and graduated Magna Cum Laude from Oakland University. She received her Juris Doctor from Michigan State University College of Law and graduated Magna Cum Laude.

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