The term “Legal Custody” is frequently misunderstood; it means which parent (or both) will make the major life decisions for the children, such as on matters of health, education, welfare, and religion.1 Divorcing parents one of whom has strong Catholic beliefs and the other a devout Christian are sometimes apt to put the children in a tug-of-war as to their beliefs.
For such reasons, trial courts have the ability and duty to look out for the best interests of the children and may award legal custody in several ways. Where parents get along on these types of legal issues, the trial court considers this seriously in making a joint decision for shared legal custody.2 A handful of parents make every aspect of parenting an expert in battle. These parents typically are not the type who can make joint legal custody decisions and Indiana trial courts typically award this to the parent it believes will most likely put differences aside and try to include the other in legal custody decision making.
In a small number of cases, there is some issue of such great importance it overshadows the entire marriage and ability of the parties to get along. Where this occurs, such as religion or aversion to prescription medications (ADD diagnosis and medication is a common example), an Indiana trial court may split the classes of legal custody and give one parent a specific type of legal custody. Using this example, the parent who is more likely to give the doctor-prescribed medication is generally awarded sole legal custody status on that issue. However, it is common the trial courts will allow joint legal custody on the remaining matters.
Finally, where divorcing (or in paternity) parties are reasonably able to get along, but there is some evidence that there will be disputes on legal custody issues, the trial court may take a hybrid approach. Under a variation of this approach, both parents have joint legal custody, but in the event of an irresolvable dispute, one parent makes the decision. This allows a child’s need to be met at the moment it arises, but preserves the other parent’s right to go back to court over the disagreement with theories ranging from contempt to modification.
Ciyou & Dixon, P.C. advocates have a strong educational focus, hoping to help legal consumers be better equipped to maximize the most of their case objective and minimize litigation’s implication on them and the children. This blog was written by counsel at Ciyou & Dixon, P.C. who practices domestic law through the State of Indiana.