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What does having legal custody mean?

Legal custody, as it pertains to family and divorce law, means having the right to make certain decisions about an individual’s well being. In family and divorce cases, “individuals” are typically children. Legal custody, as opposed to physical custody, can determine what type of medical care, education and other emotional or environmental factors are influential and present in a child’s life and surroundings.

When the prospect of divorce is looming above a family, safeguarding the children and their interests is the first priority. Establishing legal custody is an important step toward this. Whether a divorcing couple establishes legal custody by a court’s determination or hashing it out privately, defining the terms of legal custody protects the child from unnecessary suffering and ensures parental involvement, as well as parental accountability.

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Legal custody is important when:

Medical Emergencies Arise

If a child experiences a medical emergency, legal custodians have the right to designate where a child receives medical care. For example, most communities have more than one medical treatment facility and one establishment may offer better care than the other. Having legal custody means having the right to select the better care facility for treating the child.

Educational Decisions Must be Made

If the nature and progress of a child’s education requires parental or custodial guidance and approval, legal custody comes into play. For instance, if a child has special needs and lives close to one school, but another school further away can met his needs, a legal custodian can decide that the other school is better suited and petition for the child to attend that school.

Non-residential Travel

Legal custody can determine whether a child can travel beyond state limits. For example, if a parent without legal custody wants to take the child on summer vacation while spending two weeks in Florida, when the home state is Michigan, the parent with legal custody can approve the visit — or deny it.
During divorce, parents are typically addressing structural concerns of marital property, support obligations and scheduled visitation. Custody concerns, including legal, are often the sensitive heart of such cases because it involves children. When parents disagree about certain aspects of the child’s best interest, the parent with legal custody gets the final say. However, most courts award joint legal custody so that both parents have a legal say in what the child does. This forces parents to put external concerns to the side and focuses on the mutual importance of their child’s best interest.

Going through a divorce and dealing with custody issues aren’t easy but the Cantor Law Group is here to help you get the desired outcome for you and your child, call us 24 hours a day for a free consultation at (602) 691-6364. You can also email us through our confidential contact form.

If you would like more information about custody issues in Arizona here are related pages: Child Custody, Legal CustodyJoint Custody, Physical Custody, and Child Custody Modifications.

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