What Is Legal Custody?

By Molly Murphy

Attorney, Cordell & Cordell

Note: Part 2 will guide parents through handling joint legal custody without verbal communication if you and your spouse cannot deal with each other amicably. Click here to read Part 2.

When most clients come in they know what kind of physical custody they are looking to enjoy with their children. Many though do not realize that physical custody is not the only kind of child custody available. Legal custody covers major decision-making responsibilities affecting the children, including religious education, choice of schools, tutoring, cultural education, extracurricular activities, health care, etc.

Parents can be awarded joint or sole legal custody of their children. However, each parent shall make decisions regarding day-to-day care of the children and in emergencies affecting the health and safety of the children while he/she is the responsible parent. Further, both parents should try to be consistent with each other in day-to-day decisions and discipline of the children.

Legal custody covers several different areas.

The first area is the agreement by both parents that the needs of the children for a continuing relationship with each parent is a priority. To facilitate this, both mother and father shall use their best effort to foster the respect, love and affection of the children toward the other parent and cooperate fully in implementing a relationship with the children that will give the children a maximum feeling of security.

The court orders and believes that both parents should promote a relationship with the other parent. Each parent recognizes that the best interest of the children requires that he/she allow the children to love the other parent. The parents shall cooperate so that the children have regular and frequent contact with the other parent so that the children and parents have affection and respect for each other. Mom and dad each agree to take no action, which would demean the other and agree to set aside any issues and feeling of antipathy and marital discord toward the other for the sake of rearing psychologically healthy children.

Further, legal custody asks parents to work together to further their child’s education and decisions about school. Each parent shall notify the other of any activity such as school conferences, programs, parties, field trips, etc., where parents are invited to attend. The presence of each at such functions shall be encouraged and welcomed by the other.

The court encourages parents to go beyond even communication by asking each parent to also notify the other parent of the unusual performance of the children, whether good or bad, on any project, test, quiz or homework assignment and any important communications from school regarding attendance, behavior, grades, etc. Each parent agrees to assist as is necessary with homework.

Further, both parents recognize that each of them has the responsibility of contacting teachers and counselors as required by the children’s education and development, and the desirability of making those contacts together if possible. Parents should agree to provide each other with information described above by telephone as soon as reasonable or in person.


Note: Part 2 will guide parents through handling joint legal custody without verbal communication if you and your spouse cannot deal with each other amicably. Click here to read Part 2.


Margaret “Molly” P. Murphy is an Associate Attorney in the Arnold, Missouri office of Cordell & Cordell where she practices exclusively in the area of domestic relations. Ms. Murphy is admitted to practice law in the state of Missouri. Ms. Murphy was born and raised in St. Louis. She received her B.A. in Political Science and English Language and Literature in 1998 from the University of Tulsa where she graduated magna cum laude. Ms. Murphy received her Juris Doctor from the University of Missouri-Columbia in 2001.

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One comment on “What Is Legal Custody?

    unsure what to do next
    Me and mom are divorced child is 10 she has custody of child however in march cps took child and place her with family member until school was out n june she was place with me threw mom and cps the cps case was closed in aug gave mom one visitaion and she took off with kid sister n cps helped us get her back now child is scared her mom will come get her legal aid can’t help use and where still paying child support I can’t afford a lawyer right now. She has legal right to have her but child does not want to go..unsure what to do next

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