Child custody decisions can be the most emotionally charged of the divorce process. Judges will take the best interests of the child into account when determining the optimal parenting plan for parents and children. In most cases, shared parenting or joint custody is the best option. What exactly is shared parenting? Is it right for your family?
Shared Parenting Defined
The concept of custody is divided into two sets of rights: legal and physical custody. Joint legal custody (or shared legal custody) gives both parents say in decision making responsibility for the child. Contrast this with sole custody, where one parent has full decision-making power over one or more areas of the child’s life (e.g. education, medical decisions, etc.). Physical custody is where the child spends time or lives. Under the majority of shared physical parenting agreements, parenting time is shared more equally, although it does not have to be a 50/50 split. This arrangement varies from family to family, but the goal is for each parent to play an equal role in the child’s life.
What are the Benefits of Shared Parenting?
Having frequent and continuing contact with both parents is considered a right for every child. There are certainly instances where a shared parenting arrangement is not in the best interest of a child. However, generally speaking, the primary benefit of shared parenting is that the child will grow up with the influence of both parents in his or her life, despite the fact that the family is no longer an intact unit. For many children, shared parenting is the next best thing to being raised by parents who are married. For parents, it can reduce the stress of being a solo parent. When parents share custody, time, expenses, and major decisions are shared, which can be beneficial and equitable to everyone.
What are the Drawbacks of Sharing Custody?
The biggest disadvantage to shared parenting is the stress some children feel moving from one house to another. Some children adjust easily, while some struggle with the ongoing shuffling from one home to another. The adjustment can be destabling particularly if the communication between parents is spotty or conflictual. Some couples may also have very different views on parenting, which will be intensified by being forced to make joint decisions after a divorce. Some parents in a high conflict relationship achieve greater success with parallel parenting which allows both parents to have two separate parenting styles and requires the child to adjust and adapt. The level of conflict between the co-parents will be a good indicator of success within the shared parenting model.
Will it Work for You?
Every person’s needs are different. Every family’s needs are different. Families that live long distances apart or have unconventional work or travel schedules may not adapt well to shared parenting. Children with special may adapt better to the stability of living primarily in one home. In some cases it is best for the child to live with one parent for the majority of the time and spend time with the other at specific times. Ultimately, the court will consider the needs of the child above all other expectations or considerations when making custody decisions.
If you would like to explore shared parenting, an experienced family law attorney can walk you through the options, benefits and limitations. Joint custody has been a positive experience for many divorced couples. It could also be right for your family.