Joint legal custody means that both parents have rights to participate in all important decisions concerning their children, reports About.com. A parent who feels the other parent is not honoring a joint legal custody agreement can request a judge to enforce it, states Nolo.
Many states prefer to award joint legal custody in divorce proceedings because both parents have an equal legal right to make decisions about the upbringing of their children, according to About.com. These decisions concern matters such as housing, medical care, what religious services the children attend and where the children go to school. Courts may find parents in contempt if they do not honor joint legal custody arrangements. Although courts do not usually punish with jail or fines in joint legal custody disputes, resolving disputes through the legal system is expensive, reports Nolo.
Sometimes one parent considers joint legal custody difficult or impossible due to abuse, neglect, problems with drugs or alcohol, or lack of communication on the part of the other parent, states Nolo. Under such circumstances, a parent can request a court to grant sole legal custody, although the parent must prove to a judge that it is in the best interest of the children. Alternatively, sometimes judges designate one parent as the tie-breaker in joint legal custody arrangements, so that parents can reach decisions when they don't agree.