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How Important is Legal Custody?
*The following is a repost from 8/12/11
Most lawyers will tell you that legal
custody isn’t very important. They will also tell you that you’ll never get
sole legal anyway. They will brush it aside and move on to other issues. My
first lawyer told me, “it doesn’t mean anything. It just means that the
father has the right to information about their education, medical care and
religion.” Oh, well, that sounded OK, I was going to have sole physical
custody so that was the main thing, right? Wrong. That could not be more wrong.
Unfortunately, that is how the court views it for the most part. Also, lawyers
telling you that you’ll never get sole legal? That is probably a sad fact.
Joint legal custody cost me, my kids
and my ex, 8 years of our lives, tens of thousands of dollars (although I lost
track during the custody trial, it may have hit 6 figures) and left my kids
with a few emotional scars. I did finally go for sole legal custody after about
6 years of nonsense and bad or delayed decisions that were actually dangerous
to one of my children’s health, literally.
It is a misnomer to say that legal
custody is only about information regarding the education, health care and
religious upbringing of your children. You already have that in <a href="/files/5/1/5/2/0/309915-302515/Appendix_A.pdf”>Appendix A, which is attached to every Minnesota
Dissolution case that involves children. Why then would someone need legal
custody if it is the same thing? Why even bother with a thing called legal
custody? Why not just assign physical custody and then add a caveat that gives
each parents the rights spelled out in Appendix A?
Legal custody is much more than just
information. You and the other parent have to come into agreements about the
children in regards to school, where they attend, for instance, what doctor
they see, and even when they’ll go, who gets the responsibility to take the
children, and many other crazy things. I have even heard of legal custody being
used to take a parent to court because they allowed the child to pierce their
ears without the father’s permission. Now, if you and the other parent have a
good, cooperative relationship after divorce, these things won’t be very
problematic. You will both have the best interest of your child in mind and be
able to agree. What if you and the other parent don’t get along? What if it has
always been a very dysfunctional relationship, once that has always involved
the blame game and one ups-manship and always trying to get revenge?
This spells big trouble. It will be a long term and very costly problem and it
could have dire consequences for your children. Think long and hard about
stipulating to joint legal if your relationship is not a cooperative one. If
your lawyer insists that you will never get sole custody, it would still be in
your and your children’s best interests to try. Maybe if the other parent knows
you are serious and they haven’t yet learned the power that joint legal gives
them over you, maybe they’ll agree to give you sole legal. Most likely, they,
too, have been told that joint legal is not important.
If you cannot get a stipulation
(agreement), then you may have to put it on the back burner, but if there is
any nasty game playing that interferes with your child’s well being, be
prepared to go back and get it. It can be a scary proposition though. If you
lose, you could lose physical custody as well. This is the main reason why some
parents would rather put up with years of emotional hell for themselves and
their child than risk losing physical custody. That is something only you can
weigh in your mind and determine your best action. The best time to get sole
legal is in the beginning of the court process, stipulated would be best, or
after a few years or more where you can prove the other parent is interfering
with your child’s well being. If you are not able to prove this, it would not
be wise to take the issue to court. In my case, the parenting consultant’s
summaries and memorandum’s laid out the case pretty nicely, but then I got
saddled with an incompetent custody evaluator. I will need to tell you about
Our parenting consultant was a
meddler. I have said that before. She really didn’t want me to win sole
custody. She tried everything she could to scare me and stop me from going
through with it, but my mind was made up, so I pressed on.
Below is a really sick, deranged
proposal she sent to the attorneys for us to try and settle the legal custody
issue out of court. She sent this craziness the day we had a settlement
conference in my attorney’s office. She was not there, but still found a way to
meddle. She wanted to scare me, I’m sure, but instead, she made me mad. She
made me decide that I would not give up, give in or lose custody of my
children. Thank you, EA! Read the crazy crap over and keep in mind that with her
proposal, I would still have sole physical, the children would be living with
me, but the dad would have sole authority over one child. Read that rubbish and
then try and figure out how that would have worked? She was basically splitting
our kids into a his and a hers. Can you imagine this? We would have needed an
assistant just to try to remember who had to do what, when and how. UGH! Does
that sound like it would solve any problems or create more? Does that sound
like we would develop a more cooperative relationship or hate each other’s guts
even more than we already did? Oh, and how would the children feel being a his
and hers? Mine already hate that fact when it comes to the deduction on the
taxes. Much of what she proposed would have been illegal, too, and I could not
have been prevented from attending school events for my child and things like
that. This from an intelligent woman, who went to law school, and she would
with this load of crap?
Read it and weep! Names and certain
info has been removed for privacy reasons.
<a href="/files/5/1/5/2/0/309915-302515/PC_cover_sheet.pdf”>fax cover sheet
I was afraid the opposing attorney
would use this as evidence to the court as a recommendation for what should be
in the court order. I told my attorney of my fear. He said, “We are going
to put this into evidence to show how absolutely insane this is.” Well, he
did just that and it did show lunacy and helped my case.
Anyway, as you can see, legal custody
is very important and it encompasses many aspects of you children’s lives. You
would probably never even be able to know everything that comes under the
designation of “legal custody” because it is always open to
interpretation, yours, your ex’s, your attorney’s, your ex’s attorney’s, the
parenting consultant’s, the judge’s, pretty much everyone has a different idea
of what is and what is not legal custody. You won’t know until someone
complains! Don’t take legal custody for granted. Some people will manage joint
legal very well, but if you are certain that you and your ex do not function
like a cooperative couple and most likely never, you owe your children the
sanity of having one clear thinking parent making those decisions.
About lifesdoorsmediationI am a mediator, Life and Divorce Coach and an Instructor of a High Conflict Divorce Program.
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