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Decision-making responsibility (formerly referred to as “custody”) is the right to make important decisions about how your child is raised and cared for.  These decisions include those about the child’s education, medical care, religion, extra-curricular activities, and other important matters affecting the child’s life.  

Decision-making responsibility can be given to one parent or shared by both.  If you have sole decision-making responsibility, you are not required to involve your child’s other parent when making decisions on behalf of your child.  If you have joint decision-making responsibility, you share the right to make decisions for your child with their other parent and this requires that you have the ability to both communicate and cooperate with that person.  It is also possible to have de facto decision-making responsibility.  This generally happens when your child resides with you, but you have no court order or parenting agreement in place. However, it is always easier to enforce your decision-making powers if you have them set out in a parenting plan or agreement or if a judge has awarded them to you in an enforceable court order. 

If the parents agree on who will have decision-making responsibility, they may outline this arrangement as part of a parenting plan.  This is usually the least complicated and least emotionally taxing way to determine which parent(s) have decision-making responsibilities. If you and your child’s other parent do not agree on who should be given decision-making responsibility, you have several options to try with the possible support and assistance of a lawyer.  You may choose to use negotiation, collaborative family law, mediation, or arbitration to reach a mutually agreeable parenting plan.  If, however, you are unable to reach an agreement on decision-making responsibility the decision will be left to the court to issue a parenting order.  A parenting order is an enforceable court order that sets out issues such as decision-making responsibility and parenting time.    

If you find yourself in court where a judge is determining who will receive decision-making responsibility for your children, the judge will make their decision based on what is in the best interests of your child(ren).  They may use the findings from any investigation and report from an Officer of the Children’s Lawyer clinical investigation and they may request an assessment be conducted by a private social worker or another mental health professional who will speak to each parent, the children, and any other relevant persons.  The judge will also consider the child’s current living situation as well as any history of violence between family members.  After compiling all the relevant information, the judge will make an order outlining who has decision-making responsibility for the children based on what is in their best interests.   

If you need help understanding your parental rights and the associated legal proceedings, our compassionate team of lawyers at Gelman & Associates can assist you and ensure that your rights as a parent are protected. Contact us today for a free consultation.

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