Married parents have joint legal custody of their children, meaning that they must agree on major decisions regarding their children, such as education, healthcare, and religious training. When parents of children under 18 get divorced, it has to be determined how decisions for the children will be made. The options include: one parent having sole legal custody, which means that one parent makes all major decisions for the children; the parents sharing joint legal custody, which means that the parents must agree on all major decisions for the children; the parents sharing joint legal custody, but one parent has tiebreaker authority with certain types of major decision, or all major decisions; and the parents dividing the types of decisions for which they will have sole decision-making authority.
The most common arrangement is for parents to share legal custody for their children. Problems can arise, however, if conflict between the parents prevents them from being able to reach joint decisions for the children. Experts overwhelmingly agree that exposing children to conflict between parents harms the children.
There are several tools that can help parents reach agreement about legal custody issues for their children. For example, the court can appoint a parenting coordinator to help the parents reach agreement. The parenting coordinator is often a therapist or experienced family lawyer who works with the parents on communication techniques or serves as a voice of reason. The parenting coordinator does not make major decisions for the children, but can help the parents find common ground.
Another option is for the parents to attend mediation. A mediator is a neutral third party, often a retired judge, experienced family lawyer, or therapist. The mediator does not make any decisions for the parents. Rather, the mediator tries to help the parties identify common goals and options to achieve those goals. If the parents reach an agreement on a disputed issue, the parents can put agreement into writing, which the parents sign.
If the conflict reaches such a level that it either prevents important decisions from being made for the children or exposes the children on a consistent basis to harmful conflict between the parents, there may be grounds to ask the court to modify legal custody and change the decisionmaking process for the children.
The best thing for children is for their parents to find a way to reach an agreement. Individual therapy often helps a parent learn strategies to withdraw from the cycle of conflict with their ex-spouse. Unfortunately, sometimes even if one parent is willing and able to attempt joint decision-making, the other parent is unable to co-parent, whether due to mental health challenges, substance abuse, or other reasons. If that is the case, an experienced family lawyer can help you determine what options are in your children’s best interest.
If you have questions about Child Custody, Guardianship or any other Family Law issue please contact Catherine H. “Kate” McQueen at (240) 507-1718 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
ABOUT KATE MCQUEEN
Catherine H. “Kate” McQueen is a family lawyer and principal in Offit Kurman’s Bethesda office and is licensed to practice in Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia. Ms. McQueen focuses her practice on the many legal issues that impact families, including all the issues arising out of a divorce, such as custody, child support, alimony, and other financial and property issues. She also has extensive experience in guardianship matters for children and incapacitated adults, including assisting clients in petitioning for guardianship, serving as court-appointed counsel for alleged disabled persons, and serving as court-appointed guardian for individuals when their family members or friends are unwilling or unable to do so.
ABOUT OFFIT KURMAN
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