Ashley Donovan Law, PLLC

Tempe Family Law Attorney
  
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Legal decision-making 101: What it means for separated parents

Going through a separation is difficult, even when it is for the best. It represents a new chapter in life – emotionally, financially and in terms of property. Sorting out what, exactly, this will look like is a real challenge.

Children supersede all of that. For most parents, their biggest worry during divorce is how it will impact their kids. One of the key considerations going forward is legal decision-making.

What legal decision-making actually means

Legal decision-making (often referred to as “legal custody” in other states) is all about big-picture decisions. A divorced parent with legal decision-making has the legal right and responsibility to make choices for a child regarding:

  • Their schooling
  • Their health care
  • Their religious upbringing
  • Their personal care

The 2 types of legal decision-making

In general, there are two types of legal decision-making.

Joint legal decision-making means both parents have an equal right to this responsibility. Neither has more say than the other. Sole legal decision-making grants this responsibility to only one parent.

Separated parents can make this arrangement on their own and include it in a parenting plan, which the court must then approve. If the parties cannot agree, then the court will issue an order based on what it believes is in the “best interests” of each child.

Parenting time is separate

Legal decision-making is completely separate from parenting time (which you might hear referred to elsewhere as “physical custody”). Parenting time refers to when a child is physically with each parent. Separated parties may have joint legal decision-making, but unequal parenting time where one individual has periodic visitation.

Modifying a court order

Life brings changes. An existing legal decision-making order may no longer be sensible in light of new circumstances. If this is the case, a parent can file a written request with the court to modify an existing order.

There are certain stipulations that must be met. However, if you can demonstrate that a change is in the best interests of the child, the court may allow for an adjustment.