Legal Custody: Joint or Sole?


There are two types of legal custody—sole legal custody and joint legal custody. “Sole legal custody” means that one parent will have the legal right, as well as responsibility, to make decisions regarding the minor children, to include decisions relating to the health, education, and welfare of the minor children. “Joint legal custody” means that both parents share in the decision-making.

When granting joint legal custody, the Courts generally look for these factors:

  • Parents mutually agree to joint legal custody; 

  • The parents are able to co-parent the child(ren) and reach agreements regarding the child(ren)’s best interests; 

  • The court determines, after having carefully considered the facts and evidence, that it is in the best interest of the child(ren) to award joint legal custody.

Situations, where the Court will usually grant sole legal custody to one parent, are:

  • Parties cannot reach agreement on sharing legal custody; 

  • There is only one parent in the picture—e.g. one of the parents has abandoned the child(ren) or disappeared; 

  • The court, after carefully considering all facts and evidence, determines it is in the best interest of the child(ren) to award sole legal custody to one parent.

It is important to remember that in family law, the court can award, or the parties can agree, on various types of custody:

  • Sole legal to one parent and joint physical custody to both parents;

  • Joint legal and joint physical custody to both parents; 

  • Sole legal to one parent and sole physical to the same parent; and 

  • Sole physical to one parent and joint legal to both parents.

The Court considers the child’s best interests when determining whether an order of joint or sole legal custody is appropriate. These factors include but are not limited to:

  • The age of the child.

  • The relationship of the child's parents and any other persons who may significantly affect the child's welfare.

  • The preference of the child, if old enough to express a meaningful preference;

  • The duration and adequacy of the child's current living arrangements and the desirability of maintaining continuity;

  • The stability of any proposed living arrangements for the child;

  • The motivation of the parties involved and their capacities to give the child love, affection, and guidance.

  • The child's adjustment to the child's present home, school, and community.

  • The capacity of each parent to allow and encourage frequent and continuing contact between the child and the other parent, including physical stress.

  • The capacity of each parent to cooperate in childcare.

  • Methods for assisting parental cooperation and resolving disputes and each parent's willingness to use these methods;

  • The effect on the child if one parent has sole authority over the child's upbringing; 

  • Any history of domestic violence; and

  • All other factors having a reasonable bearing on the physical and psychological well-being of the child.

Legal custody is important for your ability to decide what is in your child’s best interests. Don’t hesitate to call today for your free consultation. By choosing the Law Office of Channe G. Coles, you will have guidance throughout the process and all of your questions will be answered.


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Legal Disclaimer: The information provided on this site is not intended to create, nor does it create an attorney-client relationship. The information herein is not intended to be anything other than the educated opinion of the author. This article should not be relied upon as legal advice. Author is an attorney is licensed to practice law only in the State of California, and the information provided is based solely on California Law unless otherwise stated.