Joint Legal Custody vs. Sole Legal Custody: What’s the Difference?

I sometimes get asked, “what’s the difference between joint legal custody and sole legal custody?”. Joint legal custody in Oregon is an arrangement by which parents share rights and responsibilities for a major decision concerning the child. This can include the child’s residence, education, health care, and religious training. It is also possible for the joint legal custody order to designate one parent to have sole power to make certain decisions about specific matters, but that decisions on other issues would be made jointly. Sole legal custody means that one parent has the authority to make the major decisions as outlined above. With sole custody, the child may primarily reside with one parent or share his or her time with both parents.

The Different Types of Legal Custody in Oregon

It’s important to understand that the court will have the final say when it comes to joint or sole custody. The Oregon courts do not have the power to order joint legal custody unless both parents agree to it.  If one parent disagrees with having joint legal custody, then the court will order sole legal custody to one of the parents. The court will make the decision based on what the court believes is in the child’s best interest.  Even if one parent has sole legal custody, Oregon law still provides that the non-custodial parent retains certain rights, such as the ability to consult with medical personnel, consult with teachers, and receive educational related records.

Put another way…

Legal custody is an important aspect of raising children when parents divorce. It is a separate issue from physical custody, which concerns arrangements for where a child lives. When a mother and father divorce, legal custody covers major decision-making responsibilities affecting the children, such as medical care, religious instruction, choice of schools, cultural education, and extracurricular activities. The difference between sole custody and joint custody is important, and not subtle.

Sole vs. Joint Legal Custody

If the parents cannot agree, the court will award legal custody to one parent, which is often the parent who has more parenting time with the children. This is not required, but practically speaking, the parent with more parenting time is usually the parent making doctor’s appointments and handling other matters for the children. The court is not choosing or making the decision that one parent is better than the other parent. However, if parents cannot agree to try to make joint decisions, then it is unlikely they will be successful at making joint decisions for the children later. The courts do not want parents coming back to court time and time again when they cannot come to a joint decision.

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