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May 18, 2023 Podcast

What’s The Difference Between Physical and Legal Custody?

Gailor Hunt
Gailor Hunt
What's The Difference Between Physical and Legal Custody?

Today we’re going to be discussing legal custody or the authority a parent might have to make important decisions about their children’s lives. Legal custody is different and separate from physical custody, which is with whom the child lives and when. And we’ll be talking through this differentiation and why understanding this concept is important if you are going through a divorce with children.

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Note: Our Podcast, “A Year and a Day: Divorce Without Destruction”, was created to be heard, but we provide text transcripts to make this information accessible to everyone. All transcripts on our website are created using a combination of speech recognition software and human transcribers and could contain errors.

Jaime: Welcome to A Year and a Day. I’m Jaime Davis, board certified family law attorney at Gailor Hunt. On this show, I talk with lawyers, psychologists, and other experts with the goal of helping you navigate divorce without destruction. In this episode, I’m talking with Melissa Essick, fellow family law attorney at Gailor Hunt and trained mediator in all family law matters. Today we’re going to be discussing legal custody or the authority a parent might have to make important decisions about their children’s lives. Legal custody is different and separate from physical custody, which is with whom the child lives and when. And we’ll be talking through this differentiation and why understanding this concept is important if you are going through a divorce with children. Thanks for joining me, Melissa.

Melissa: Thanks for having me, Jaime.

Jaime: So I’m going to dive right in. What is legal custody?

Melissa: Legal custody is the ability to make the important decisions for your children, such as medical decisions, educational decisions, elective medical care, dental care, those kind of things.

Jaime: So there are a couple of types of legal custody. There is sole legal custody and joint legal custody. What are the differences between the two?

Melissa: It’s really unusual that we see sole legal custody. Typically, most parents are awarded joint legal custody, which is where both parents have equal authority to make the decisions for the children. Sole legal is if the court would grant one party, one parent the decision to make those or the authority to make those decisions.

Jaime: If you have joint legal custody, what information are you entitled to about your child?

Melissa: Pretty much everything. So you have access to all of their educational documents. You could have access to all of their medical care documents. You have pretty much access, you both should have equal access to all of those important documents related to your children. I always tell people the more you can include the other parent on the front end, the better. Meaning, if you’re signing your child up for an extracurricular activity, for example, go ahead and let the coach know to include the other parent on the email chain. That way you’re not the responsible parent for having to share that information with the other person. Similarly, if you’re signing them up for school or if you’re signing them up for a new pediatrician, go ahead and add them as another guardian so that they have that same information and doesn’t fall on you to share that information with them.

Jaime: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, anytime that you can just add the other parents email address or contact info and make sure they’re receiving the same information you are at the same time, so much easier for you and getting rid of that burden that you might forget to share something. I tell my clients, too, when in doubt, overshare. Right? Like they may have the baseball schedule or the pediatrician appointment, but if you’re not sure they have it, share it again.

Melissa: That’s right. Absolutely. I have a lot of clients that say the same thing. Well, I already know that they have the schedule. I gave them the schedule at the beginning of the year and they are always texting me to ask me when the next game is. Just tell them when the next game is. I agree with you.

Jaime: What decisions typically have to be made jointly by both parents if they are sharing joint legal custody?

Melissa: Day-to-day decisions can be made by the parent who has the child that day. So things like maybe bedtime routines and diets and those kind of things can typically just be made by the parent that has the custody of the child that day. But important decisions related to the children, such as medical care, education, preschool selection, extracurricular activities, those kind of things that the court would deem important that would change the well being of the child or potentially have an effect of their well being of the child, those things need to be made jointly.

Jaime: Yeah. And I think a big one that we see a lot too is whether the child should attend therapy. And if they should attend therapy, who should the therapist be? That’s one of the biggies, I think, when it comes to joint decision making.

Melissa: Absolutely. And I will tell you most of the time, if there is a parent that thinks that one child, that the child should attend therapy, most likely they need to be attending therapy. And so I always tell my clients to err on the side of caution on that too. And you can always defer to the professionals. So maybe you set up that initial consult or that initial intake with the therapist and then just deferred to the therapist as to what they recommend as far as how frequent the visit should be.

Jaime: Well, and practically speaking, I think most child psychologists are not going to see a child unless both parents consent anyway. Has that been your experience?

Melissa: Absolutely. I have a case right now that one parent has sole legal custody and even though they have the authority to sign the child up for therapy unilaterally, the therapist still wants the consent of both parents. And so that has become an issue in several of my cases.

Jaime: So what about smaller things like, let’s say the kid gets an invitation to a birthday party. It occurs during your time. Do you need to ask your co parent whether your child can go to the birthday party?

Melissa: I consider that more of a day-to-day decision. Certainly if the birthday party is falling on the other person’s time before you tell the child about it and get the child excited about it, or before you RSVP for the child, definitely contact the other parent and just say, hey, I just wanted to make you aware, or forward it and just say, I’m assuming that you’re going to RSVP if you can make it.

Jaime: So what if there is an emergency? What if during your custodial time, your child falls at the playground and needs to get rushed to the hospital for maybe a broken arm or something like that? How do you handle any of those types of decisions that need to be made at the hospital?

Melissa: Well, I would say you need to alert the parent as soon as it’s safe to do so. And so if you’re in a situation where you’re really it’s just triage, right. You’re just trying to make sure that the child’s safe, stable, and get the child the care that he or she needs, your first thought is not going to be to contact the parent. If you get a chance or an opportunity, and you can just send a text that says, hey, there’s been an emergency. They’re going to be okay, but we’re going to go check it out at Rex Hospital. We’re headed there now. Alert them as soon as you can. But ultimately your first concern should just be the safety of the children.

Jaime: Yeah. I think there normally is a carve-out for emergency medical decisions that even if you have joint legal custody, if there is a decision that needs to be made because of some emergent medical issue, that you should be able to put the child’s medical needs first and get that taken care of.

Melissa: Right. You mentioned earlier about oversharing. I think this is where this comes into play. If a parent is not there, sending information as soon as you get it. If you’re at the hospital, for example, and you speak to the doctor, go ahead and send a text that just relays the information that you’re receiving. Or if there’s some appointment that needs to be made for sickness, maybe it’s not quite an emergency, but they are coming down with something and the other parent wouldn’t otherwise know about it. Go ahead and let them know and tell them that you’re making an appointment for your child to be seen by the pediatrician. So again, oversharing is always best.

Jaime: Well, and I think too, if you overshare, you’re going to provide a certain level of comfort to the other parent that you’re not withholding information right. And that you’re always being above board. And so I think that can help foster some trust between co-parents, that mom or dad is going to do the right thing by the child. They have this history of giving me all the information so that I can make informed decisions when I need to. I mean, ultimately that’s going to be what’s best for the child.

Melissa: Absolutely. One of the things that I see oftentimes is when there are cases where the child is older and the child may, let’s say, has a cell phone and communicates with the other parent, often by text. For example, just because the child is communicating and sharing information with the other parent does not negate your responsibility for having to share that information. So I always tell parents, don’t communicate through the children. It’s always best, even if you think that the child’s already relayed the information to the other parent, go ahead and share it again. And also to the extent that you can keep the child out of any type of adult decisions or custodial decisions, that’s what’s best because the child really doesn’t need to be involved in these day-to-day conversations and communications that should be between the parents.

Jaime: Yeah, I think it’s tricky when kids get older and they have cell phones and if the parents don’t have a great relationship, I think that there can be a tendency to try to use the child as a workaround because they really don’t want to communicate with the co-parent. And so there’s this assumption made that the child has communicated whatever the important information is to the other parent. And at the end of the day, they’re just kids. You can’t really rely on the children to relay all of the necessary information to the other parent.

Melissa: Right. And they may not know what’s necessary information. They may not know what’s relevant or the information that the other parent would otherwise need to know. Also, I would say before you communicate decisions to the child, communicate with the other parent. Make sure that the other parent’s on board. And then say to the child, hey, just want to let you know I talked to Dad, and Dad’s on board with taking you to the birthday party. Before you tell the child that you’re going to take them to the birthday party, and so I think that’s important just so that you’re not alienating the child. If the child finds out that, hey, Dad might not be able to take me for whatever reason, you certainly don’t want that alienation, but also the disappointment in the child.

Jaime: Right. I mean, before you say to your child, hey, we’re going to go to this really fun thing that happens during mom’s time, maybe you should check with mom first and make sure that’s okay.

Melissa: Absolutely.

Jaime: So we’ve kind of touched on this a little bit, but I’d like to go a little more in depth: joint decision making. Where do folks go wrong here?

Melissa: There’s a lot of places where folks can go wrong. I would say mainly something that I see most often is when parents make decisions for the child, such as medical appointment, for example, and they make the appointment and then on the day of the appointment, they send a text that says, hey, I wanted to let you know I’m taking John to the pediatrician. I want to get him tested for ADHD. That is a very important decision that needs to be made jointly between the two parties. And that is a decision that needs to be consulted with the other parent and discussed with the other parent before making the appointment. Just because you’re sharing the appointment time and date does not mean that you’ve actually consulted with the other parent. I think people forget that step and leave that step out. That occurs oftentimes where there’s one parent during the marriage that is the one that’s kind of the fallback from making the appointments. And that’s typical for most marriages. You have your certain responsibilities and maybe Dad’s responsible for signing up for extracurricular activities, but Mom’s responsible for the appointments. Or that’s just kind of by default how it’s worked out. When you separate, that tends to just kind of fall in line. But you have to remember that things are a little bit different now that you’re separated and you do need to be consulting with the other parent and getting their thoughts and getting their okay.

Jaime: Yeah, and I think, too, there can be a little bit of gamesmanship here, which I don’t love as a lawyer, I think that sometimes, for example, the pediatrician appointment that you mentioned clearly that’s an appointment that probably needed to be on a calendar for months before it was actually time for the appointment. And so the parent in that scenario would have had more than ample time to reach out to their co parent to say, hey, thinking about putting this on the calendar for this day. Can you be there? And so it is really important that you not play those types of games with your co-parent. And if you think the appointment is necessary and you want the child to go, let the other parent know, get their input. I mean, you guys may disagree about whatever the issue is, and it’s important to get out ahead of that and discuss it.

Melissa: Right, exactly. So I see that with appointments, we also see issues with regards to, like you said earlier, mental health decisions. And sometimes competitive sports take up a lot of time and most of the time are going to fall on both parties’ weekends or somehow fall on both parties’ custodial time. And so making sure that both parties support that competitive sport is really important.

Jaime: Yeah, especially those travel sports. Those can be tough. I’ve heard it a lot recently with the travel hockey, the gymnastics, where there are meets or games in different states. I mean, that can be tough.

Melissa: Absolutely . And expensive. Most of the time people are going to share in some regard their extracurricular activity expenses, and we don’t have to get into that piece of it. But that does come into play and certainly has to be factored in as part of the decision as to whether or not that’s viable.

Jaime: Right. Another area where I’ve seen people go awry, and I don’t think it’s intentional: registering the child for kindergarten. When folks are separated and living in different houses, either parent’s address can be used as the base address for the school. And so maybe Mom or Dad, whichever parent, just takes it upon themselves to register the child for kindergarten, not even thinking there needs to be a conversation about school choice. You have more than one school that is available for the child and maybe your co parent doesn’t want the child to attend the school associated with your base address.

Melissa: Absolutely. It’s a little bit easier when they’re already enrolled, already attending school because you can just kind of have the just maintain status quo and have what they’re doing just kind of be the thing that’s done. It is different when you’re making that first registration, that first decision. And I don’t know that most people, if you don’t have a child that you’ve registered for kindergarten, a lot of people don’t realize how early it is. Typically it’s sometime in January before the start of the year. And so lots of decisions have to be made pretty early. So you have to stay ahead of it.

Jaime: Well, and it’s an ordeal. I mean, having just registered a child for kindergarten myself, you have to have all the paperwork in order. You’ve got to take it to the school. I mean, it’s more than just filling out a form online.

Melissa: Right. And there’s decisions related to charter schools and magnet schools and all of these other things that come into play that really need to be discussed ahead of time.

Jaime: Absolutely. So we’ve talked about all the things that you should do to be a good co-parent and to communicate and consult and try to make joint decisions. What if you do all of those things and your co-parent simply just doesn’t respond to you?

Melissa: That happens often. What I tell my clients is to continue to relay the information even if you’re not getting feedback or response. If you have to have a decision made, there needs to be a yes or no response. Send an email that says something to the effect of if I don’t hear from you by Friday, I’m going to assume that you consent to me getting John tested for ADHD. And that way the fallback is the assumption is yes, I consent, if you don’t get a response. If you do get a response, great. That elicited some sort of conversation and you guys can discuss it and try to make a joint decision about it. But otherwise at least you’ve got something in writing that says that I made the assumption that I told you I was going to make because I didn’t hear from you by X date.

Jaime: Right. I mean, burying your head in the sand is not a good solution. And we see plenty of co-parents that try to do that. And that can be terribly frustrating for the parent who is trying to get whatever the thing is done for the child. But I think that is a great strategy to handle that.

Melissa: Yeah. And our judges don’t like people that are non-responsive. They really want to see two parents that are communicating together timely and effectively. And anytime that the child’s, especially their medical needs are delayed, you run the risk that the judge could, if you end up in a courtroom, that the judge could say, okay, well, I’m going to grant sole legal medical decision to the other parent because they’re the only ones that are attentive to the child’s needs. And so you just need to be careful there.

Jaime: What happens if you get a response and you and your co-parent don’t agree on a decision that’s affecting the child?

Melissa: That happens often. There’s a couple of different things that you could do. First step, I think, would be to consult with a professional, if there’s a professional in that area. For example, if there is a question regarding mental health therapy, you could certainly just set up an initial meeting with the therapist and let the therapist talk to the child and let the therapist make the recommendation as to how often they think the child needs to be seen, if at all. Or for example, you might want to consult with the pediatrician or you might want to consult with the teacher if there’s a question about education. So consulting with the professional and maybe just deferring to the professional is a first step. If that doesn’t work, because sometimes that doesn’t. I see folks that will schedule a mediation and have the mediator, which is normally either a family lawyer or most of the time a family lawyer, that will help the two of them try and bridge the gap. Sometimes mediators can kind of think outside the box and come up with creative solutions that maybe the parents themselves weren’t thinking of because sometimes if you’re too close to it, you can’t really be objective.

Jaime: Well, and mediation is great because that’s something you can do before a lawsuit is even filed. So let’s say that you consult with professionals. You guys still don’t agree, you schedule a mediation. Nobody has to have filed a lawsuit for you to be able to do that. So I think that is just one more step that you can try to take before you end up in court.

Melissa: Yes, absolutely. Another thing that I see folks do is having a parenting coordinator appointed. This is someone that would have to be appointed by the court, so there would have to be an underlying lawsuit filed. But the parenting coordinator is a third party, typically a therapist or a lawyer. That would become the tie-breaker and help make decisions when the two of you can’t otherwise agree, the parenting coordinator’s decision, or they call it a directive, becomes binding, just as if the judge was ordering the parties to do something. So a parenting coordinator is certainly an option that a lot of folks tend to fall back on.

Jaime: Yeah, I actually do some work as a parenting coordinator. Most days I’m just a regular family law attorney representing folks going through a divorce. But I do have some cases where I am the parenting coordinator, and I think parenting coordinators can be very helpful in cases to kind of be you’re sort of like a third parent and you’re the tiebreaker, right? So let’s say that Mom thinks the child needs to be medicated for ADHD and Dad doesn’t. And they’ve consulted with the doctor and the doctor also believes the child should be medicated, but they still won’t agree. Dad still won’t agree. And so if there is a parenting coordinator who has the authority over, I believe it’s called healthcare management, the parenting coordinator could be that tie-breaker and say, okay, well, I’ve talked to the doctor, I’ve looked at the medical records, I’ve talked to Mom, I’ve talked to Dad. And based on all of those things, I think it’s best for the child to take medication as prescribed by his or her doctor. So I think that that can be a good solution. The parenting coordinator is somewhat limited in that there is an appointment order that sets forth various areas of authority such as sharing a vacation and holidays or discipline or health care management, all of those things. And the authority of the parenting coordinator is limited to just those areas. So if the area is not specified in the order, it’s not a decision your parenting coordinator is going to be able to help you with. But provided there are lots of different areas that are selected in the order, the parenting coordinator can be very helpful.

Melissa: Yeah, absolutely. And the good thing is it helps save some money in that you’re not having to run into a courtroom every single time you have a decision. But also it gets decisions made timely. And so some of these decisions can’t wait. In our courts, typically it takes months to get in to see a judge for a judge to be able to make that decision. And so if you need a decision made quickly, the parenting coordinator is a great option. One of the areas that I see often used is communication. That’s communication between the parents on how to communicate. The parenting coordinator, one of their roles and objectives, I think, is to help the two parties communicate, because oftentimes there’s issues there, but also the parents communicating with the children and how that’s going to happen, when that’s going to happen, how often those are issues that I see a lot of the times that need to be addressed with the parenting coordinator. So I suggest giving the parenting coordinator as much authority as possible, checking all the boxes on the appointment order and adding additional to fit the needs of the family.

Jaime: Yeah, I agree with that too. I think that parenting coordinators can be very good at filling in gaps in the court order. If there is something that is ambiguous or if there’s something that simply isn’t addressed, the parenting coordinator can make a directive that bridges that gap. Something that comes to mind is let’s say that there is a parent who travels for work and they have to schedule a flight that gets them home slightly after the custodial exchange time. And the other parent doesn’t agree. They’re like, no, you have to pick the kids up at exactly 5:00. And the other parent’s like, but I don’t get in from my trip until 7:22, or whatever it is.

Melissa: Right.

Jaime: The parenting coordinator can step in and say for this one visit, the pickup time is 7:30 or 8:00 p.m. or whatever works to accommodate the travel.

Melissa: Right. And ultimately, the parenting coordinator is trying to make decisions that’s best for the children. Sometimes as parents that have gone through a divorce, they become very rigid in certain aspects, especially custodial time, so they can’t see objectively how this might affect the child and what’s best for the child. And so the parenting coordinator can kind of take a step back, look big picture, what’s going to be best for the child? Well, it’s not going to be best for the child if they miss their custodial time with Dad because he was an hour late and couldn’t pick up the child on time. And so the parenting coordinator is very helpful, I think, in that role. And also, you spoke to it earlier, but the parenting coordinator has a lot of authority in that they can contact professionals or they can contact all the people that are associated with whatever issue is brought to them. So a lot of the times the parenting coordinator will contact a teacher, for example, or contact a therapist or contact the doctor, and it just gives them a little bit more information to make an informed decision about that issue.

Jaime: In my work as a PC, I often say to my clients, I’m not always going to agree with you. I’m not always going to agree with the other party, but I will always make a decision that will bring peace to your child. The goal is to reduce conflict because reducing that conflict ultimately is going to be best for the child.

Melissa: Right, exactly. And so sometimes the parents or parties can’t do that themselves. They need the help of a parenting coordinator or sometimes a judge.

Jaime: Absolutely. So let’s talk about that. We’ve talked about how a parenting coordinator can be helpful, but there are some cases where the parenting coordinator is not. What do you do if the PC is not effective?

Melissa: Well, you’re going to end up in front of a judge, and you’re ultimately going to have to have the judge make the decision as to what’s best for the child. And in some instances, the judge may award sole legal custody to one parent on all issues. I have seen, though, where a judge has kind of split the baby, so to speak, and they’ve awarded sole legal custody on certain issues to Mom and other issues to Dad. For example, if Mom has, let’s say, an educational background, let’s say Mom’s the teacher, and she’s always been involved, mainly involved with the child’s education. Maybe they would award legal for educational decisions to Mom. Or let’s say Mom’s a doctor, for example, and that she’s been very involved in the medical issues. Maybe they award sole legal for medical issues to Mom, or Dad’s a therapist. They might award mental health to Dad. So it really just depends on kind of their involvement in the past and their decisions in the past. And I do think the judge is going to want to know that whoever they award soul legal to is going to be communicative with the other parent. They’re not going to award soul legal if they feel like they’re going to withhold information or not consult with the other parent. Because even if one parent gets the final authority to make the decision, you’re still going to be ordered to consult with the other parent and discuss the issue with the other parent and then you ultimately get to make the decision. But typically it’s not unless the other parent is just not involved at all. Typically it’s not just you can do whatever you want to.

Jaime: Right. You don’t get to bypass them. You still have to deal with them and talk to them and make sure that they’re informed.

Melissa: Right. I know I have some parents that come to me and they’re like, how can I get it so that I just never have to talk to them again? Well, you don’t get that benefit.

Jaime: That ship has sailed. You have a child together.

Melissa: That’s right. And so you don’t get that benefit anymore. And it’s not good for the kids.

Jaime: Right.

Melissa: And so as difficult as it may be to effectively or respectfully communicate with the other parent, it’s really best for the children if you can.

Jaime: So I often have clients come in for initial consultations and they say, I want sole legal custody. I want to file a lawsuit. I want to ask for sole legal custody. In your experience, how likely is it that a court is going to award sole legal custody just right off the bat without trying some other stuff first?

Melissa: Very, very unusual. Obviously I can’t give it a percentage, but I would say very difficult. Typically before the court will award sole legal custody, they’re going to try and put some other alternatives in place such as suggest that they get a parenting coordinator or attend mediation or consult the professional. There’s just so many other things that they can do as a parent. We do have rights to make decisions for our children unless we lose those rights. And so to the extent that both parents are fit and able and have the ability to make those decisions, the judge most likely is going to say joint legal custody is best for the kids.

Jaime: What are some of the things that folks can do to impact their decision-making rights for the children? What is some of the bad behavior that we see that can affect their ability to do that?

Melissa: I think failing to communicate, failing to communicate timely, not sharing information, playing games.

Jaime: Yeah.

Melissa: Using the children kind of as pawns. So that it’s very clear to the court that the decisions are not being made about what’s best for the children, but they’re making the decision about what’s best for the parent or what the parent wants, rather than putting the child first. And so the judge ultimately, it’s their job to do what’s best for the children. And that might not be convenient for Mom or convenient for Dad. I see that a lot. Well, this isn’t going to work for me because of X, Y and Z. Well, you’re going to have to figure it out because that’s what the judge thinks is going to be best for the child.

Jaime: Yeah. I think substance abuse can also be another issue that affects a person’s rights to make decisions for the children. If they’re suffering from an addiction that hampers their ability to make good decisions, or maybe they have an untreated mental health condition that is also hampering their ability to make good decisions, I think that that could potentially affect their ability to have legal custody.

Melissa: Yeah. Especially if there’s an underlying mental health issue and they’re not being treated for it and they’re not taking their medication, and they’re notorious for that. Absolutely. I’ve seen that as well, even though a lot of the times it’s not forever. If there is a substance abuse issue, what the court will they may award temporary sole legal custody to one parent or the other until the person with that substance abuse can get the treatment that they need. And so they’re not looking to exclude the parent. They’re looking to make sure that the parent is healthy and stable and is making good judgments for the children.

Jaime: Melissa, is there anything else that you would like to add that we haven’t talked about today?

Melissa: I don’t think so. We’ve covered a lot. There’s been a lot of information shared. Obviously, every case is case specific, fact specific, and what a child needs, and every case is a little different. So I do always encourage my clients to try to stay out of court if you can, because ultimately the parents are the best people to make decisions about what’s best for their child. The judge is only going to hear the case for a few hours, and so the judge is not the person in the best place to make those decisions. So to the extent that you can try to communicate effectively with the other parent, try to be respectful, professional, courteous, I would encourage them to do that.

Jaime: So are there certain situations where even though it’s difficult, you would encourage your client to seek sole legal custody?

Melissa: Yes, absolutely. Anytime that the child is not safe, I would encourage my clients to ask for sole legal custody. For example, maybe someone has a substance abuse issue and they’re leaving the child unattended for long periods of time or a young child unattended for any period of time. In situations as that I would certainly ask for sole legal or maybe a child’s medical need is not being met or not being met timely. I have some cases in the past where a parent has not acknowledged that there is an underlying medical condition and so they’re just not getting the treatment that they need. In those situations, having one parent be able to make the decision and be able to make it timely is what’s best for the child.

Jaime: Yeah, I’ve also seen that in cases where one parent will kind of bury their head in the sand. I feel like I’ve said that a lot, but it happens about whether or not a child should be evaluated for learning disabilities. I know we’ve discussed ADHD.

Melissa: Sometimes with vaccinations. I’ve seen that a lot too, especially during this COVID season. We’ve seen that.

Jaime: Right. And if one parent does not have sole legal custody, it can really slow down these decisions that need to be made rather quickly for the child. And so it does end up being in the child’s best interest that one parent or the other have sole legal custody. So can you give me an example of where a parent might be interfering with the child’s activities in a way that might warrant sole legal custody?

Melissa: It happens a lot with mental health. It can happen with medical providers, but also it could happen as far as daycare providers or childcare providers. Maybe they are interfering with the relationship with the babysitter, for example, or constantly changing the babysitter, or interfering somehow with the daycare provider, getting them kicked out somehow of daycare and enforcing them to constantly continue to move the child. I mean, stability and consistency is always best for the children. And so if a judge thinks that someone is just, again, it’s playing games, it’s doing what, there are some cases that we have, and I don’t know if it’s an underlying mental health issue or why, but there are some cases where people just want to create drama and create conflict and just to have I don’t know if it’s just to continue…

Jaime: That the connection.

Melissa: The connection to the other spouse. Right, exactly. And so they’re not thinking about what’s best for the child. They don’t care about what’s best for the child. They’re just constantly in this state of conflict and turmoil with the other parent. And so in those situations, the judge potentially may say, okay, well, the parent that’s going to provide most stability for the child is the one that’s going to be making sole decisions for the child.

Jaime: Thanks Melissa for joining us, and thank you for listening. If you like this episode, be sure to follow the show wherever you get your podcasts so you don’t miss the next one. While this information is intended to provide you with general information to navigate divorce without destruction, this podcast is not legal advice. This information is specific to the law in North Carolina. If you have any questions, before taking action, consult an attorney who is licensed in your state. If you are in need of assistance in North Carolina, contact us at Gailor Hunt by visiting I’m Jaime Davis, and I’ll talk with you next time on A Year and a Day.


gailor hunt attorney
A Year and a Day: Divorce Without Destruction' is a law podcast produced by Gailor Hunt Davis Taylor & Gibbs, PLLC partner Jaime Davis. You can learn more about Jaime's experience and expertise on her bio page. If you have a question about the podcast, you can email Jaime at Please note, the purpose of this podcast is not to give legal advice. This podcast is for general, informational purposes only and should not be used as legal advice. The information discussed in this podcast is specific to the laws in North Carolina. Before you take any legal action you should consult with a lawyer who is licensed in your state.
melissa essick podcast guest
Melissa J. Essick grew up in Cary, North Carolina. She attended college at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington (UNCW) where she graduated with honors. While at UNCW, she served as President of her sorority, Alpha Phi. Following graduation, Melissa decided to pursue her passion of the law by attending the Norman Adrian Wiggins School of Law at Campbell University. While at Campbell, Melissa was a member of the National Moot Court team and the Trial Advocacy team. Because of her oral advocacy and brief-writing skills, she was inducted into the Order of Barristers, an honor society that provides recognition for individuals who have excelled in advocacy and service.

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