What is meant by joint legal custody

Family Code ‘3083, with reference to the order of preferred joint legal custody

states as follows:

“In making an order of joint legal custody, the court shall specify the circumstances under which the consent of both parents is required to be obtained in order to exercise legal control of the child and the consequences of the failure to obtain mutual consent. In all other circumstances, either parent acting alone may exercise legal control of the child An order of joint legal custody shall not be construed to permit an action that is inconsistent with the physical custody order unless the action is expressly authorized by the court.”


In essence and in substance, that code section states that if no one specifies the particular of what joint legal custody will mean, there is a “default.” The default status provides that either parent may make the decisions with reference to the health, education or welfare of minor child. Either parent could consent to cosmetic surgery for the minor child, change a child’s school, or even change the child’s name.

Any parent who is seeking joint legal custody should consider specifying the areas which require mutual agreement including the following:

1.         Enrollment or termination of attendance in any public or private school.

2.         Participation in regularly occurring extracurricular activities.

3.         Non emergency medical, dental and orthodontic, other than routine exams

4.         Participation in mental health counseling, therapy or treatment.

5.         Change in area of a child=s residence

6.         Issuance of a driver=s license.

7.         Issuance of a passport

8.     Body piercing, tattoos and extraordinary hair cuts

9.         Signing contracts on behalf of the child (for theatrical services. etc.).

10.      Nominated as a guardian ad litem (to litigate on behalf of the minor child)

Legal custody has statutory liabilities to be aware of even if a parent with joint legal custody does not share physical custody. Civil Code ‘1714.1 provides that a parent in custody and control or a minor is liable up to $10,000.00 in damages resulting from acts of the minor which cause death, physical injury or property damage.  Education Code ‘48904 provides for a parent’s liability for a child’s willful misconduct or vandalism of school property up to an amount of $7,500.00.  Penal Code ‘490.5(b) provides that “a parent having custody or control of a minor” is jointly and severely liable with the minor for shoplifting or theft of books from a library.  lf both parents have authorized a minor to acquire a driver’s license, both parents may share some responsibility with reference to that minor in the event the minor has an accident.

Non-custodial parents should be aware of Family Code ‘3025 subsection (1):

“Notwithstanding any other provisions of law, access to records and information pertaining to a minor child, including but not limited to medical, dental and school records, shall not be denied because such parent is not the child’s custodial parent.”

A non-custodial parent has an absolute right to be made aware of and to acquire information regarding the minor child’s medical and school pursuits. The non-custodial parent need not accept a statement from, for example, the child’s physician or school administrator, that “I’m sorry, we cannot give you this information because you do not have legal custody.@

I hope this gives you a better understanding of what a joint legal custody really means.


Tara-McGuinnessTara McGuinness is a member of A Better Divorce, a Certified Family Law Specialist and has years of experience helping clients in Torrance / Palos Verdes in all areas of family law including California divorce, prenuptial agreements, trusts and estates. Our firm is conveniently located next to the Del Amo Mall in Torrance, California and is one of the most trusted family law firms in the South Bay community.

Posted in Divorce Process, Legal, Parenting.