Legal Decision-Making Authority Explained

We get questions all the time from our clients that shows confusion about what authority a parent has over decisions made in the other parent’s household, and what decisions require consultation between parents who share joint legal decision-making authority.  Do you need to get permission from the other parent before having a babysitter watch your children when you go out to dinner?  What about if your daughter wants to wear mascara to school?  What if your ex has different ideas from you about whether your child should watch a PG-13 rated movie?

Joint legal decision-making authority requires parents to work together and consult with one another to make decisions in very specific arenas of child rearing, including the following:

  • Medical decisions, which include the selection of doctors, dentists, mental health professionals, and the like.  It also includes consenting to non-emergency medical procedures such as vaccines and surgeries
  • Educational decisions, which include the selection of a school/routine child care provider and consent to educational testing
  • Religious decisions, which include participation in rites that indoctrinate a child into a particular faith
  • Personal care decisions, which include any major, semi-permanent changes to a child’s physical appearance

The day-to-day decisions on caring for a child, such as personal grooming, diet, bedtimes, discipline, supervision of homework, participation in extra-curricular activities, playdates and activities within the home are not subject to legal decision-making authority.  These sorts of decisions do not typically require consultation with the other parent – even if the other parent holds sole legal decision-making authority – and are instead treated as routine parenting decisions that must be made by any parent while exercising parenting time. 

The court’s ability to review routine parenting decisions is limited unless one of these decisions is so clearly not in the best interests of a child that action is warranted.  For example, if a parent insists on feeding a child a food to which the child is allergic, or refuses to administer medication as prescribed by a doctor, then judicial action is warranted.  Similarly, if a teacher indicates that a child is falling asleep every day after exercising parenting time with one parent, or flunking a class because work is not being completed at home, then this sort of parenting issue can be cause to modify parenting time.