Why legal custody is important for divorced parents

In common usage, the term “child custody” often refers to where the child will live most of the time. While this is an important aspect of custody rulings, there is another aspect which parents may not know about until they actually go through custody proceedings.

Generally speaking, child custody can be broken down into two categories: Physical custody (sometimes called residential custody) and legal custody. The latter refers to which parent has the authority to make major decisions on the child’s behalf. These decisions are often fundamental ones, including religious indoctrination and schooling. Rulings on legal and physical custody are often consistent with one another, but not always.

Unfortunately, when parents share legal custody and disagree about major issues, the children may be stuck in the middle. A recent example did not occur here in Missouri but deals with an issue that many parents may be facing.

Two co-parents in Florida are currently embroiled in a legal battle over whether or not their young son should be circumcised. Even before the child was born, the father wanted the procedure and the mother did not. Although the issue was addressed in the original parenting agreement, it has nonetheless turned into a lengthy legal battle.

The boy is now four years old, and has said he doesn’t want the surgery. In February, the boy’s mother fled with him to an undisclosed location and is attempting to get a federal judge to intervene and stop the procedure.

Circumcision remains a very common practice in America and has ties to religious traditions as well. Nonetheless, it is becoming an increasingly controversial medical procedure. Moreover, circumcisions are sometimes medically necessary. When they aren’t, however, many people on both sides of the issue would say that circumcisions which aren’t performed very close to birth can be traumatizing to the child.

Physical custody is an important issue for divorcing parents, but this case is a reminder that the importance of legal custody should not be overlooked. If parents share legal custody, they need to work together to reach consensus on major child-rearing decisions or resolve their disputes in court.

Source: ABC News, “Civil Rights Case Filed to Stop Florida Boy’s Circumcision,” Matt Sedensky, April 14, 2015

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