EDITOR’S NOTE: Welcome to the first installment of a new, recurring column — A Question of Law. In this space, readers will have an opportunity to send us legal questions and local attorney Law McMeans (yes, that’s really his name!) will endeavor to answer them, free of charge.
People often comment on my first name, Law.
I explain that “Yes, it is my real name! And no, it’s not short for anything.” I was given this name because my grandfather Victor W. Pryor Jr. — “Papa,” as I call him — was an attorney who primarily practiced out of Holdenville. My first name was a combination of honoring him and wanting to create a unique name for me. He is also the reason I am an attorney. When I was about 10, he began encouraging me to read more by “forcing” me to read legal writings. I fought going to law school for as long as I could — ask any of the legal studies professors at ECU — but ultimately succumbed, and I am grateful for where I am today.
Papa always wished more individuals had access to basic legal assistance. Far too often, price scares individuals away from even seeking out the most basic advice on their specific legal issue. In turn, this has created a very real disconnect, and distrust, between individuals and the legal system. Papa would always joke, “It seems the job of several attorneys is to take a simple word and make it as convoluted as possible. They can charge an individual to spell the word, write the word and then explain the word.”
This column is an attempt to honor him and help fulfill his wish.
Sole or joint custody?
One of the most frequent questions I receive has to do with the difference between sole and joint custody. Often, these terms are used as crutches against individuals without understanding what the words mean.
On a day-to-day basis, the custodial arrangement deals with the decision-making authority of each parent. Now, let us assume you and I have one minor child and we are embroiled in a legal custody battle (I hope you have hired a quality attorney, because I will be using LWP Law, PLLC). If the court orders that we have “joint custody,” this means that before making any major decisions regarding our minor child, we must discuss and give a good-faith effort to reach an agreement regarding each issue as they arise.
Your next question should be, “What is a major decision?”
When I discuss this issue with my clients, I give the example of “The Big 5”:
Religion: What denomination? How involved?
School: Which one? How involved?
Major medical which is not an emergency: What doctor? Which surgery?
Extracurricular activities: Which ones? How involved?
Discipline: The discipline methods of the children and overall boundaries when it comes to appearance, demeanor and items such as cell phones and the like.
Obviously, this list is not exhaustive but is meant as a simple illustration.
Often, when parents reach the stage of needing a custody order they have a difficult time even speaking with each other, much less reaching an agreement on an issue. Because of this, the court will often list a “final decision maker.” This individual has the tie-breaking vote. This right must only be used after a good-faith effort to reach an agreement on an issue.
Your custody arrangement also creates a legal burden, which must be proved in the event of a modification in the future. This is a very time-consuming discussion, so please reach out to a local lawyer to discuss this more in depth.
I hope that this column helps bridge the gap between individuals and the law. I look forward to finding my voice and going through the experience with each and every one of you. Please don’t forget to send any questions you wish to be discussed to email@example.com. I will be picking two questions each month to discuss moving forward.
Disclaimer: Please note that this column is for general information purposes only and should not be used and relied upon as a substitute for or construed as legal advice regarding a specific issue or problem. This column in no way intends to create an attorney-client relationship with any individual. Advice should be obtained from a qualified licensed attorney to practice in the jurisdiction where that advice is sought. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome.