Sole Legal Custody
Where joint legal custody is not appropriate, a court may award sole legal custody to one parent. Being granted sole legal custody gives that parent the right to make the important decisions affecting the child's health, education, and welfare.
Where the parents of a child cannot communicate with each other and reach joint decisions, or where the parents are living so far apart as to make joint decisions impractical, the parties may agree or a court may award sole legal custody to one parent. That parent then has both the right and responsibility of making decisions that affect the health, welfare, religion, and education of the child. The parent with sole custody will decide which school the child will attend, which doctors the child will see, what religious education the child will receive, and whatever else may affect the welfare of the child. The ability to make such decisions is only limited by choices that would place an unfair burden on the other parent's financial resources.
Rights of the Noncustodial Parent
The fact that one parent has been given sole legal custody does not mean that the other parent (the "noncustodial" parent) has no rights at all. The parent who does not have legal custody is still entitled to copies of the child's medical records. He or she is entitled to get copies of school records and notices of school activities and to participate in Parent-Teacher conferences. Unless restricted by court order or an agreement, while the child is in the physical custody of the non custodial parent, that parent may take or pick up the child from school, take the child to athletic or cultural events, visit with friends and family, or go on a vacation with the child. However, only the parent with legal custody has the right to obtain a passport for the child. If the noncustodial parent wants to take the child out of the country, the parent with legal custody must consent and provide the passport. Airports will often require proof that permission to travel overseas with a child has been granted.
All too often, the parent with legal custody will schedule activities for the child for the time the child is with the noncustodial parent. These activities include attending birthday parties, ballet or tennis lessons, sleepovers with friends, Boy Scout or Girl Scout activities, visits with cousins, aunts, uncles, or grandparents, or special trips to a museum, zoo, or park. The noncustodial parent has the right to plan different activities and not comply with the activities scheduled without consent. However, both parents are required to look at the best interests of the child in deciding the child's activities, and that includes promoting the relationship between the child and the parent as well as working with the child's desires and expectations.
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