There are two types of legal custody that a court may award to the divorcing parents of a child. These are sole and joint legal custody, and before the court issues an order, each parent could make a case for the type of custody that they prefer. With sole legal custody, only one of the parents has the right to make vital decisions regarding the child. This leaves the other parent with no legal rights to make child-related decisions. These decisions include the religious values that the child is taught, the school that the child attends and the type of health care that the child receives when it is needed. The child also lives with whoever is awarded sole legal custody.
When the court awards joint legal custody, both parents are granted the right to make decisions that affect the child. This means that the parents have to communicate with each other and compromise on the decisions that they make. In some situations, however, the court splits the decision-making power and responsibilities between the parents to avoid unfriendly disagreements. For example, one parent may be allowed to make all of the decisions regarding education, while the other parents is given the power to decide on health-related issues.
While joint legal custody is a viable option for many divorcing parents, it does not usually work well for domestic violence victims. Putting decision-making power into the hands of the abuser often leaves the victimized parent without any control over the decisions regarding their child. This might even put the child's welfare in danger. Sometimes, however, splitting the responsibilities is a feasible solution.
Before divorcing parents seek a certain type of child custody, they might feel better about the decisions that they make after talking to their family law attorneys. The attorneys may help them understand how each type could apply to their circumstances.
Source: Women's Law, "What options are there for legal custody?", December 09, 2014