Back To School: What You Need To Know If You Have Joint Custody.


The concept of Joint Custody can be quite daunting for parents of minor children to understand, especially when getting ready for the children to start the new school year. Custody is made up of two categories: Legal Custody and Physical Custody. Joint legal custody means, both parents shall share the right and the responsibility to make the decisions relating to the health, education, and welfare of a child. Cal. Family Code§3003. This broad definition encompasses everything from choosing the type of school (public, private, religious), the school district (where a parent lives or works), or if the child is on the birthday cusp, should the child start school at all or wait another year to do so. Also, you will need to discuss where the child will receive medical care, including school-required immunizations, and allow both parents to be available for medical appointments, if needed.


If you have joint legal custody, you must discuss each of these aspects with the other parent before making any decision on your own. If you cannot come to an agreement with the other parent, seeking the advice of an attorney may be necessary to determine your rights prior to making a unilateral decision. Finally, make sure both parents are accurately listed on all the school forms, especially emergency contact forms. Both parents should talk the child’s teacher and make sure he or she is aware that on all occasions, both parents need to be informed about what is expected of their child and what events are coming up during the school year.


Joint Physical Custody is a bit easier to understand, as it exists where the child spends significant time with both parents. Cal. Family Code §3004. Often the parent with a lesser share of time has more time with the child over the summer and less during the school year. That transition back to the normal schedule may be difficult for the child. Do your best to aid the transition by explaining to the child that they still get to spend significant time with both parents. Also, do your best to communicate amicably with the other parent regarding things like the child’s homework, school projects, other class requirements, and upcoming school events to ease the child’s concerns.


Even if your custody arrangement remains the same during the school year as it does in the summer, there may still be disagreements with the other parent over things like paying for school supplies, field trips and extracurricular activities. Read over your court documents (Judgment, Orders, etc.) to see if those items are highlighted as to how the costs are to be divided. If you have no Court Order or other written agreement, talk to the other parent about how to divide the cost of those items. If you cannot come to an agreement, it is reasonable for the parent who has the children for a larger percentage of the time, or more time during the weekdays, to be responsible for school expenses. It is assumed that child support is used for this purpose, if applicable. Extracurricular activities, on the other hand, can either be paid entirely by one parent, split 50/50, split by the time-share percentage or each parent can pay for an activity of their choice.


Every situation is different, you have to do what works best for you. If you cannot come to an agreement on your own, contact a neutral party to assist in mediating an agreement or seek legal advice. Keep in mind, the goal is always to do what it is in the child’s best interest. Communication with the other parent is key to keep the stress level down during this time of year and help the child transition back to school.

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