What is final decision making authority in Utah?
Final decision making authority is a component of legal custody. Legal custody is the ability to make decisions for your child. You can read more about that here. It is becoming more common for courts to award parents joint legal custody, but then order that one parent be awarded “final decision making authority.” This means that the court trusts one parent’s decision making ability more than the other parent’s—at least when it comes to the child. This means that both parents get to be involved in making decisions regarding their child’s life, but that if they disagree then one parent gets to have the “final say.” Sometimes the court can split final decision making authority between the two parents. This sometimes occurs when both parents are good and involved parents, but they can’t seem to get along. This gets a little complicated sometimes, but in short it could play out like this:
Mom and Dad have a difficult time getting along, but both are good parents and are involved in their child’s life. Every time they try and reach an agreement about what decision to make with the child, they end up in a fight that seems to escalate. The court can see that both parents are rarely going to reach a consensus over various issues affecting the child. Therefore, the court orders that Mom will have final decision making authority over educational and religious issues and Dad will have final decision making authority over the child’s healthcare and extra-curricular activities.
How does this affect me?
The parent that is awarded final decision making authority has a bit more freedom and control than the other parent. Essentially, this means that if parents cannot come to an agreement on certain issues involving their child then the parent with final decision making authority gets to decide what to do—they get the “final say.” If the other parent doesn’t like the final decision, then they can take the issue back before the court and try to convince the court that the decision made was not in the child’s best interests. If they can convince the court of this then the court will order the parties to reverse direction. Here’s how this might play out:
Mom and Dad have joint legal custody, but their court orders state that Dad has final decision making authority and can exercise this authority if the parties can’t reach an agreement on a certain decision. Child’s doctor recommends he take medication for ADHD. Mom is vehemently opposed to the child taking any medication whatsoever and Dad thinks medication is a good idea. The parents cannot agree. Since Dad has final decision making authority, Dad elects to put the child on medication. Now, Mom must also give the child medication when she has the child for parent-time, even though she disagrees with it. Mom may choose to either: (1) go along with the decision and not take any further action; (2) take Dad back to court and try and show the court why Dad’s decision was wrong. If Mom can show the court why Dad’s decision was wrong then the court will Order that the child shall no longer take medication for ADHD.
All court orders are different, so read yours carefully
This hypothetical scenario described above might not always play out like this. Everyone’s final court orders (Decree of Divorce, Decree of Paternity, Decree of Custody, etc.) are different. Some people might have a Decree that says one parent has final decision making authority, but they cannot act on their decision until after mediation. Other people may have a Decree that says they cannot act on their decision until after they’ve gone to court. So, make sure that you read your court orders carefully so you know exactly what’s required of both parents before “final decision making authority” can be exercised.