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Joint Legal Custody

Joint Legal Custody - How to Ensure It’s Being Exercised

Recently, I have come across a bunch of Orders that simply say “joint legal custody.” As you read that language, I am sure a lot of you wonder what that means. In Nevada, a case known as Rivero v. Rivero explains that legal custody “involves having basic legal responsibility for the child and making major decisions regarding the child, including the child’s health, education, and religious upbringing.” The holding in Rivero goes on to explain that when parents have joint legal custody they “must consult each other to make major decisions regarding the child’s upbringing, while the parent with whom the child is residing at the time usually makes minor day-to-day decisions.” So, does this language make sense? Does the language clarify your rights and responsibilities? I think the answer for most of you is “no.”

It is my opinion that parents need a good definition of joint legal custody because this the statements made in Rivero are just too broad. A major decision to me might be cutting a child’s hair whereas, to my spouse is would be whether or not the child receives braces. As such, I think a well crafted definition of joint legal custody puts each parent on notice of their rights and responsibilities.

Over years of practice, the attorneys of Roberts Stoffel Family Law Group have crafted a definition of joint legal custody that we believe can assist parents in their co-parenting relationship. Here, we share that definition in hopes that it will assist you. We define joint legal custody as follows:

  1. Each parent is responsible for setting their own rules and punishments for their respective home, during their respective timeshares; however, the rules shall not violate any of the terms set forth herein below.
  2. Each parent will consult and cooperate with the other in substantial questions relating to religious upbringing, education programs, significant changes in social environment, and health care of the children.  
  3. Each parent will have access to medical and school records pertaining to their children and be permitted to independently consult with any and all professionals involved with them.
  4. All schools, health care providers, day care providers, and counselors will be selected by the parents jointly. In the event the Parties cannot agree to the selection of a school, the children will be maintained in the present school pending mediation and/or further order of the court.
  5. Each parent will be empowered to obtain emergency health care for the children without the consent of the other parent. Each parent will notify the other parent as soon as reasonably possible as to any illness requiring medical attention, or any emergency involving the children.
  6. The parents shall each have access to school information, such as grades, assignments, etc., via the school’s website or online via the school’s websites. If information regarding school, activities, etc., is not available via the school website, each parent shall provide the other parent, upon receipt, with any information concerning the well-being of the minor children, including, but not limited to, copies of report cards; school meeting notices; vacation schedules; class notices of activities involving the children; samples of school work; order forms for school pictures; all communications from health care providers; and the names, addresses, and telephone numbers of all schools, health care providers, regular day care providers, and counselors.  
  7. Each parent will advise the other parent of school, athletic, religious, and social events in which the children participate, and each aggress to so notify the other parent within a reasonable time after first learning of the future occurrence of any such event as to allow the other parent to make arrangements to attend the event if he or she chooses to do so. Both parents may participate in all such activities with the children, including, but not limited to, such activities as open house, ceremonies, school carnivals, and any other events involving the children.
  8. Each parent will provide the other parent with the address and telephone number at which the minor children reside, and to notify the other parent within ten (10) days prior to any change of address and provide the telephone number of such address change as soon as it is assigned.
  9. Each parent will provide the other parent with a travel itinerary and, whenever reasonably possible, telephone numbers at which the children can be reached whenever the children will be away from the parent’s home for a period of one (1) night or more.
  10. Each parent will encourage liberal communication between the children and the other parent. Each parent will be entitled to reasonable telephone communication with the children; and each parent agrees he or she will not unreasonably interfere with the children’s right to privacy during such telephone conversation.
  11. Neither parent will interfere with the right of the children to transport their clothing and personal belongings freely between the parents respective homes.
  12. The parents agree to communicate directly with each other regarding the needs and well-being of the children, and each parent further agrees not to use the children to communicate with the other parent regarding parental issues. The parents agree to use self-control and to not verbally or physically abuse each other in the presence of the minor children.
  13. Neither parent shall disparage the other in the presence of the children, nor shall either parent make any comment of any kind that would demean the other parent in the eyes of the children.
  14. Each parent agrees to instruct their respective family and friends to make no disparaging remarks regarding the other parent in the presence of the children. The parents shall take all action necessary to prevent such disparaging remarks from being made in the presence of the children.
  15. The Parties shall not discuss the issues, proceedings, pleadings, or papers on file with the Court with the children, pursuant to EDCR §5.301 which reads as follows:

Absent a written order of the Court to the contrary, all lawyers, litigants, witnesses or other Parties privy to matters being heard by the family division are prohibited from:

(a) Discussing the issues, proceedings, pleadings, or papers on file with the court with the minor children of the litigants;

(b) Allowing any minor children to review the record of the proceedings before the court, whether in the form of transcripts, audio cassettes, or audio-visual tapes;

(c) Leaving such materials in a place where it is likely or foreseeable that a child will access those materials.

In conclusion, hopefully this information will be helpful when an order is drafted to avoid future conflict. We suggest using similar language contained herein to minimize conflict.