How joint legal custody may work for some families

When Michigan parents get a divorce, they must decide who will get custody of the children. Legal custody refers to who has the right to make major decisions about such issues in the child's life as religion, education and medical care. Parents might share legal custody even if only one has physical custody and the other has visitation rights.

There are several advantages to joint legal custody. One of the main ones is that it can help parents create an effective co-parenting relationship after the divorce. Even if there is tension between the two of them, joint legal custody pushes them to work together on and resolve difficult issues. However, it cannot guarantee this outcome, and sharing legal custody with another parent who is largely absent, uncooperative or manipulative can make the situation very difficult.

Another challenge is that there is no clear map of what success looks like when legal custody is shared. It can be a long and difficult road, but it can also be a rewarding one. Over the years, parents may appreciate being able to turn to one another for advice and input on major decisions about their children.

Determining who will get physical and legal custody can be one of the most difficult aspects of getting a divorce. It can be difficult for parents to accept that in almost any configuration, they will be spending less time with their children. However, both parents can remain active presences in the child's life even if one of the parents only has visitation rights and does not share legal custody either. Parents who are concerned about maintaining this relationship might want to include language in the parenting plan that ensures the custodial parent will communicate about events such as the child's extracurricular activities that the noncustodial parent can attend.