Divorced and separated parents in California generally share responsibility for their children. They either negotiate arrangements with one another or ask a judge to set specific terms when finalizing a custody order. Many parents focus their negotiation efforts on having as much parenting time as possible. They want to see their children throughout the week and also on special days, such as holidays and birthdays.
However, parenting time shouldn’t be the sole focus of negotiations or litigation. Legal custody is also often split between the parents. Legal custody is what gives parents the authority to make decisions about medical, educational and religious matters. What happens if parents with shared custody arrangements do not agree about a major decision they must make for their children?
Sometimes, there are clear rules in place
Occasionally, one parent will have the foresight to request legal custody on certain particular issues. For example, if one parent is religious and the other is not, they may request the right to make decisions about what services the children attend.
Other times, the division of legal custody looks at when parents must make the decision. Either adult will typically have the authority to make emergency medical care decisions during their parenting time. However, when it comes to long-term care choices, like what therapist the children see, there is often an expectation that the adults will try to agree with one another.
If parents cannot reach an agreement despite discussing important decisions at length, it may sometimes be necessary to go back to court. A judge can review the conflict and help to resolve it. As with any other custody matter, the most important element will be what the judge believes is in the best interests of the child.
In some cases, judges may resolve a particular conflict. Other times, they may agree to modify a custody order to delegate decision-making authority on a particular matter to one parent to stave off the likelihood of future conflicts. Learning about the rules for sharing parental authority may help people pursue informed solutions for a conflict about an important decision related to their children.