Every time I hear somebody say they want “full custody,” I think to myself, what do they think that really means? Custody is the most misunderstood word in divorce.

People think custody means all kinds of things; they usually relate it very closely to parenting time. When they say: “I want custody”, what they usually mean is “I want the children with me more than with my ex-spouse.” This is a normal request but it’s not really what custody is about.

I try very hard to only use the word custody in conjunction with legal custody. Legal custody applies only to issues of significance for example:

  • Medical decisions
  • Educational decisions
  • Religious decisions
  • Decisions about the child’s general welfare

Whether or not to eat at McDonald’s during your assigned parenting time over the objection of your ex-spouse is not a legal custodial question.

When there’s hostility between parents and they have joint legal custody, they commonly think everything is a custodial issue. So, it’s very important to ask these questions to your attorney, so you have a better understanding of what legal custody means:

  1. What does legal custody mean?
  2. What is not legal custody?
  3. What do I have to do if we have joint legal custody?
  4. What can’t I expect happen if we have joint legal custody?
  5. Is this a legal custodial question?
  6. Is this a legal emergency?
  7. Is this illegal?

I want to share a story with you. Once I had an argument not too long ago with a gentleman who was insisting that it was his assigned parenting time and, his ex-spouse had no right to object to him going skydiving with their 10-year-old. I tried to explain to him that’s not an arbitrary parenting decision. Jumping out of an airplane probably is significant. He wouldn’t agree with me. But of course, he was wrong.

When you are getting divorced you need to specify with your ex-spouse what is a significant event with your children. This is a question of collaboration in decision making. Seek the help of a parent coordination professional that can help you prioritize your children. And again, legal custody DOES NOT apply to everything.

Do you want to ask us custody questions?

About the Author


John Nachlinger is a co-founder and managing attorney of Netsquire, a family law firm focused on streamlining divorces through effective mediation, settlement drafting, and court filing assistance. As a New Jersey Supreme Court Certified Matrimonial Law Attorney and Qualified Mediator, John guides couples toward equitable agreements without the cost and stress of litigation.

Recognized as a New Jersey Super Lawyer for over a decade, John’s client-focused approach aims to foster understanding during challenging transitions. With a background spanning top law journals, judicial clerkships, and boutique family law firms, John now applies his analytical skills to create workable solutions for all parties. His mediation services reshape the divorce journey by prioritizing compassion and compromise.

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