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Legal custody may be granted to one or both parents after a divorce and refers to a parent’s right to make decisions about major parts of a child’s life including education, what religion the child will be raised in and health care. Legal custody is separate from physical custody, and a parent in Massachusetts who has visitation rights may share joint legal custody with the other parent.

Joint legal custody has both its advantages and disadvantages. A parent may welcome being able to confer with the other parent about these important issues as the child grows up. Parents must also work together to communicate effectively and make decisions, and it can be good for children to see this happening.

Unfortunately, just having joint legal custody does not mean that parents will be able to work out their differences. They may never develop a healthy co-parenting relationship, and one parent could use the shared legal custody to try to manipulate the other. A parent who is unreliable can make sharing joint custody difficult. There are also cases in which it is not practical for one parent to contact the other about an issue before making a decision.

In a divorce, parents may negotiate a custody arrangement, or a judge may make a decision about one. During negotiations, parents should keep these considerations in mind. Even if parents have been ordered by a judge to share legal custody, they might be able to create a workable cparenting relationship, but if the other parent simply will not cooperate, it might be possible to have the custody agreement modified. However, it is in the child’s best interest for parents to try to minimize conflict and avoid entering into a custody battle if possible. A modification may also be necessary if one parent will not follow the custody or visitation schedule.