Legal custody is “the right to determine the child’s upbringing, including education, health care and religious training.” Simply put, a parent who has legal custody of a child has the right to decide things such as where the child goes to school, what kind of medical treatment the child receives, and what religion the child is brought up in.
A judge can award either “sole legal custody” or “joint legal custody.” Sole legal custody means just one of the parents has the right to determine the child’s upbringing. Joint legal custody means both parents have equal rights in determining the child’s upbringing. Minnesota law presumes that if either parent requests joint legal custody, then an award of joint legal custody is in the child’s best interest and should be awarded. If the other parent objects, it is up to the objecting parent to prove to the court that an award of joint legal custody is not in the child’s best interest.
In my experience, judges are almost always going to award joint legal custody unless there are very serious safety concerns involving one of the parents such as chronic substance abuse, domestic abuse or serious mental illness. An example I like to give which shows why an award of joint legal custody is actually a good thing involves medical treatment. If, for example, Mom were to have sole legal custody and Child gets into an accident while at Dad’s cabin for the weekend, Dad would be unable to authorize immediate medical treatment for Child because he is not considered a legal custodian. This could cause unnecessary delays in getting Child the treatment he/she needs.