What Is the Difference Between Joint and Sole Legal Custody?

Because lawyers enjoy making things difficult, there are two type of child custody.

Physical Custody vs. Legal Custody

The first type is physical custody. Physical custody is where your kids stay, specifically, where they spend their overnights.

For example, if you share 50/50 physical custody, that means one person has 183 overnights per year, and the other person has 182 overnights per year. (You don’t split an overnight, so someone has to have one more.)

The second type is legal custody. Legal custody is who gets to make big decisions for your kids. By big decisions I mean decisions about religion, medical care, extracurricular activities, and some financial matters. Essentially, legal custody covers the really important things in your children’s lives.

Two Types of Legal Custody

And to make things even more complicated (remember, we’re lawyers, we like complicated), there are two different types of legal custody.

The first type is sole legal custody.

The second type is joint legal custody.

The difference between the two come down to a couple rules:

  1. If one parent has sole legal custody, he or she can make a decision for the kids without discussing it with the other parent.
  1. If parents share joint legal custody, they have to work together and talk about major decisions and come to an agreement.

So, sole legal custody means one parent has all the control and authority and doesn’t even need to communicate with the other parent, and joint legal custody means parents have to work together for the good of their children.

Hopefully, you can see why Utah divorce courts prefer joint legal custody. They want parents working together to make decisions for their kids. And, to be honest, parents (even divorced parents) who work together tend to make better decisions than parents who act alone without discussion.

Now, there are times when joint legal custody doesn’t make sense. For example, if one parent is addicted to drugs or alcohol, there’s not much chance that parent is capable of making good decisions for his or her kids, so the other parent will probably get to do that alone.

For the most part, though, parents work together and share joint legal custody.

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