When parents divorce or otherwise end a relationship, they will typically seek a co-parenting arrangement. This arrangement dictates the rights and obligations each parent has, including the right to make decisions for a child.

This is legal custody, and whether a parent has sole or joint legal custody, he or she has the responsibility and the right to make important child-related decisions. This may make sense in theory, but confusion can arise when parents actually get to a situation where it may apply.

What decisions are “important”?

First, we will explain what the important decisions are that a parent with legal custody may make.

As noted in California laws, these matters include a child’s:

  • Health and medical care
  • Education
  • Religious instruction
  • Travel
  • Living arrangements
  • Extracurricular activities
  • Mental health and psychological needs
  • Appearance (in cases of drastic changes)

Some examples of what these decisions might be include whether a child goes to private school, attends church, gets his or her ears pierced, takes medication for certain conditions or is allowed to play a sport like football.

When must I consult the other parent?

Parents with joint legal custody don’t need to consult each other on every decision. Generally, parents can make day-to-day decisions alone.

However, if a matter affects a child’s well-being or welfare, parents should discuss it with each other right away. At that point, parents might reach a decision together or they may opt for mediation to help them reach a decision. If parents cannot agree on a solution, then the matter could go to court for a ruling.

Making decisions as parents can be a challenge; having to reach an agreement with another parent to whom you are not married can be even more difficult. However, one way to make this easier is to establish in your parenting plan your view on certain issues and what will happen if you cannot agree on a specific matter.