Legal custody gives a parent the ability to make important or major decisions on behalf of their child. These decisions include, for example, where a child goes to school, what their religious training or upbringing will be, and their medical and mental health care.

Depending on the specific facts, a parent with sole legal custody may also decide to relocate with the child even though doing so may jeopardize the other parent’s visitation or custody rights. For help with understanding the implications of legal custody in DC, it is best to enlist the help of a skilled lawyer.

Important Factors

Generally, legal custody in DC is awarded jointly, which means both parents typically share equal rights to making important decisions about their child, and they should be making those decisions together. One of the most important factors that affects whether a parent is awarded legal custody is their ability to communicate with the child’s other parent.

For example, if one parent is verbally abusive toward the other and is unable to engage in a conversation about where the child should go to school, for example, they would be viewed far less favorably by the court. The court could be more inclined to award legal custody to the other parent in that situation.

Sharing Decision Making Rights

Legal custody can be shared between parents. In fact, there is a presumption in DC law that legal custody is shared between parents. Even though some custody orders specify that  the parents share joint legal custody, one parent may end up having tie-breaking authority, which means that if the parents cannot agree, that parent has the final say and the right to decide.

For example, a parent may have the right to access their child’s educational, medical, and dental records, the right to be present at every appointment, and the right to attend parent-teacher conferences. Because a parent has joint custody does not necessarily mean that they must exercise those rights to retain them. In other words, a parent may choose not to exercise those rights. Depending on the specific case, a parent who does not exercise their rights regularly, however, may have a weaker argument for retaining joint legal custody. If only one parent actually makes all of the legal custody decisions and schedules and attends all of their child’s appointments, they could be awarded sole legal custody.

Rights and Responsibilities

A parent with legal custody has the right to make decisions about their child’s medical care, religious upbringing, and education. These are considered major decisions. Otherwise, day-to-day decisions would include things like what the child is wearing or what they are eating for breakfast. Sometimes the difference between the day-to-day decisions and the major ones are difficult to separate. For example, in case of an emergency, a parent with physical custody may have to act quickly by making a major medical decision.

In terms of responsibilities, both parents are legally obligated to support and raise their child. Of course, that responsibility can be abdicated, but both parents must financially, emotionally, and intellectually support their children. Unfortunately, the court most often works in negatives. It cannot order a parent to be responsible or to fulfill their parental duties. In that case, all the responsibility falls to the other parent by default.

The Age of a Child

Legal custody in DC ends when the child is 18. Under the law, a parent cannot seek custody of a child who is age 18 or older. For purposes of child support, that legal responsibility to financially support the child continues until the child is 21.

Let an Attorney Help You Obtain Legal Custody in DC

Those who wish to gain legal decision-making rights over their child or to exercise rights they may not even know they already have should speak with a well-versed attorney from our firm before initiating litigation with the other parent. A knowledgeable lawyer could help you understand local law and how it could impact the outcome of your case. Call us today for help with obtaining legal custody in DC.