What is Sole Legal Custody?
In child custody cases, the parent with legal custody is able to make important decisions regarding the child’s care and well-being, including but not limited to health, religion, and education. In NJ, the wide majority of parents are awarded joint legal custody, meaning both parents have an equal say in these decisions, regardless of which parent the child primarily lives with. While this is a good option for two parents who can cooperate and work together in the best interest of the child, there are circumstances where it is preferable or even necessary for only one parent to make these decisions. In these cases, a parent can seek sole legal custody.
Obtaining Sole Legal Custody
In some instances, this can be decided without a court hearing. If one of the parents is willing to permit the other parent to have sole legal custody and an agreement is reached, it can be submitted to a judge for review. The judge may sign it as is or have the parent come into court for further discussion. This may be the quickest and least costly way to be granted sole legal custody, but this does not happen often.
If the other parent is not willing to sign such an agreement, awarding sole legal custody to a parent can be very difficult. In order to do so, the parent must provide evidence to a judge that the other parent is not fit to make decisions regarding a child’s health and well-being. A parent may be deemed unfit by a court if there is a history of physical or emotional abuse, or if they would provide an otherwise dangerous environment for the child, such as where the parent has a history of alcohol or drug abuse, or mental illness.
What Happens After Sole Legal Custody is Awarded?
Under most circumstances, this parent will still be allowed some form of parenting time even if sole custody is awarded to the other parent. This parenting time can be limited or supervised for the child’s safety depending on the severity of the situation. However, the parent with sole legal custody will be able to make all important decisions regarding the child without having to consult or agree with the other parent.
In the end, a court tries to decide what is in the best interest in the child, and if one parent poses a danger to the child’s well-being, sole legal custody may be granted to the other parent.