How to Make Legal Decisions for Your Children as Co-Parents

In News by YKF Law

Making decisions for your children can be difficult as a parent; what we choose for them can dictate how the rest of their lives pan out. We want the best for them and love them unconditionally, so making the best decisions for them is our greatest responsibility. Our choices determine their safety, quality of life, and overall well-being. 

Parents under one roof often work together and make decisions for their children. However, some families live in separate homes with divorced parents and co-parent together. Some co-parenting relationships are successful while others have little to no contact with one another and find it difficult to be in the same room together.

Whatever the case, co-parenting is when both parents share parenting responsibilities, including meeting their children’s basic needs and making decisions for them when the children are in their custody. Aside from choosing the weekend family activity and what to feed them for dinner, there are also legal decisions for co-parents to make. Keep reading to learn how to make legal decisions for your children as co-parents to keep the peace and make the best decision for your children.

Physical vs. Legal Custody

Physical Custody

Before discussing how to make legal decisions as co-parents, let’s discuss physical vs. legal custody and how it plays a role in making legal decisions for your children. Physical custody is when a child enjoys parenting time with each parent. Physical custody is separated into two arrangements of physical custody: “joint physical custody” and “sole physical custody”. Missouri courts recognize both and often aim to give both parents joint physical custody so the children can share continual meaningful time with both parents.

Physical custody can vary from a 50/50 split to one parent having more time with the children, working best for families that live near each other and when both parents can meet their children’s needs. The court will consider joint physical custody if it’s in the children’s best interest. However, if joint physical custody would endanger the children, the court may give one parent sole physical custody.

Legal Custody

Similar with physical custody, Missouri courts have both “joint legal custody” and “sole legal custody” arrangements. Legal custody differs from physical custody because it includes decision-making for the children, most often assuming the parents make decisions jointly. These decisions include medical care, religion, extracurricular activities, where the child will attend school, and more. 

With joint legal custody, co-parents make decisions for the child’s upbringing together, versus sole legal custody when one parent makes the decisions. 

Tips for Making Legal Decisions as Co-Parents

If you have joint physical custody and joint legal custody of your children, you understand that maintaining a relationship with your ex for the benefit of the children is important. You must communicate with one another to discuss custody arrangements, vacation plans, birthday parties, extracurriculars, financial responsibilities, etc. 

Making decisions like where your children will attend school or which religion you’ll introduce them to can be challenging when you’re married, made even more difficult if you’re divorced and co-parent. Luckily, there are some things you can do to make the best decisions for your children as a team. Below are some tips for making legal decisions as co-parents:

1. Have Excellent & Open Communication With Your Co-Parent

    Making legal decisions with a co-parent can be challenging, especially if you harbor bad feelings toward one another. Since your split or even during your relationship, you and your ex probably had different opinions or preferences on extracurricular activities you want your children to be enrolled in, religion you want them to practice, where they’ll go to school, and more. 

    Co-parents always agreeing on things can be hard. Whatever feelings you have for your ex, push them aside so you can have excellent and open communication with them. How can you do that? Speak to your co-parent with respect, stating your concerns respectfully. Also, listen to their concerns and opinions on important decisions for your children. Improving communication in your relationships, including with a co-parent, leads to a healthy relationship and an easier time making legal decisions for your children.

    Not all exes treat each other with respect. If you have a toxic co-parent, keep proof of harassment, speak with your lawyer, and never hesitate to contact the police. Dealing with a harassing co-parent can be exhausting, especially when you have important decisions to make for your children. 

    2. Have Open Communication With Your Children

      It’s important to have open communication with your co-parent and children. No matter their age, children want to be heard and their wishes to be respected. For example, they might not want to do basketball as an extracurricular this fall, yet you and your co-parent think it’s best since they’re good at it. As children age they become more independent, often influenced by friends and other outside sources.

      Legal decisions like which extracurricular activities your children will do and which religion they’ll practice can seem overwhelming, made worse when your children are in their preteens or teens. Keeping open communication with your children results in a better relationship and an easier time making legal decisions for them.

      3. Have a Plan

        Making legal decisions for your children with a co-parent can be challenging since there are two opinions versus one. It can be easy to lose your train of thought when presenting arguments for making legal decisions for your children, especially if they overpower you. It’s tough to be amicable when you discuss big topics with a tight deadline, like the decision to get surgery for your child or a treatment.

        You and your co-parent will communicate for the duration of your child’s upbringing, so little and big decisions will come. Some legal decisions are easier to make than others and some can be pondered longer. For example, you’ll have to discuss a major health concern much sooner than where they’ll attend middle school. When it comes to decisions that can be planned, plan for them. You can also plan to discuss certain scenarios and decisions in advance.

        4. Be Respectful

          This goes hand-in-hand with having excellent and open communication with your co-parent, but ensure you’re respectful when making major life decisions. Whether they want your child to practice a different religion or have differing opinions on vaccinations, listen and be respectful. Making legal decisions is a challenge in itself, one that’s made even more challenging if co-parents aren’t amicable.

          5. Compromise

            There are some things we should remain confident in when making decisions for our children’s upbringing and others we can bend a little on. For example, your ex might have chosen to practice a new religion different from yours, and you may not want your child to practice it. If no harm will be done to your child, you could compromise on letting your child be introduced to it. Just be willing to compromise on some decisions.

            6. Seek Professional Help

              Some relationships are better from counseling or therapy since the use of a neutral third party is involved. Depending on the decision and how well you and your co-parent communicate, seeking professional help may be best. A therapist or counselor can communicate with you and your co-parent, offering neutral advice on decision-making. 

              Making important decisions through your child’s upbringing with a co-parent can be stressful but following the tips above can make it easier.

              Trust the Law Office of Young, Kuhl & Frick for Your Family Law Needs

              If you need help with a divorce or establishing a parenting plan or modifying an existing parenting plan, or child custody, the Law Office of Young, Kuhl & Frick, LLC can help. We’re dedicated to the practice of family law and can help guide you through the entire process. Our office is in Lee’s Summit, Missouri. In addition to our physical location, our firm’s family and divorce attorneys have practiced in Jackson, Clay, Cass, Lafayette, and Platte County, Missouri. Contact our family law firm today to schedule a consultation – we can meet in person or via Zoom.

              With over fifty-three years of combined legal experience, our family law firm is a team skilled in negotiation and litigation, handling family law matters from the most complex to the most straightforward. Our zealous team of attorneys will handle your case with expert knowledge and professionalism.