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Joint Custody – Defined

What is Joint Custody?

Joint custody is a court-ordered arrangement where both parents share legal custody and physical custody of their child(ren) after divorce or separation. It means the parents make major decisions about the child‘s upbringing together – and the child lives with each parent for a significant portion of time.There are two main types of joint custody:

  • Joint Legal Custody – Both parents have an equal say in major decisions about the child’s life, like education, religion, healthcare etc.
  • Joint Physical Custody – The child lives with each parent for a substantial amount of time according to a set schedule. This could be an even 50/50 split or something like 60/40.

Joint custody aims to have both parents play an active role in the child‘s life after separation. The idea is that continued involvement from both parents is in the child‘s best interests.

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Why Do Courts Prefer Joint Custody?

Courts tend to favor joint custody arrangements because:

  • It allows the child to maintain a meaningful relationship with both parents
  • It prevents one parent from making major decisions alone
  • It shares the responsibilities of raising the child more equally
  • Research shows children benefit from having both parents involved

Of course, the court’s main consideration is the child‘s well-being and safety. Joint custody may not be suitable if:

  • There is a history of domestic violence, abuse or neglect
  • The parents have high levels of conflict that could be harmful
  • The living situation makes joint custody impractical (e.g. parents live far apart)

But in general, courts see joint custody as the ideal arrangement when parents can cooperate and make it work for the child.

The Benefits of Joint Custody

There are several potential advantages to a joint custody arrangement:Stability for the Child

  • The child maintains strong bonds with both parents
  • Avoids feelings of abandonment or loss of a parent
  • Provides a stable, familiar routine between two homes

Shared Responsibility

  • Both parents are actively involved in major decisions
  • Parenting duties and time commitments are divided
  • Can reduce stress and burnout on one parent

Financial Considerations

  • Child support payments may be lower or eliminated
  • Shared costs for child expenses like healthcare, activities etc.

Co-Parenting Skills

  • Parents must communicate and cooperate
  • Develops important co-parenting abilities
  • Reduces conflict by sharing decision-making

Of course, joint custody isn’t perfect and has potential downsides too. But overall, it aims to prioritize the child‘s wellbeing by keeping both parents present.

Potential Challenges of Joint Custody

While joint custody has benefits, it also comes with some difficulties:Logistics and Scheduling

  • Coordinating schedules, drop-offs/pick-ups, etc. can be complex
  • The child has to adjust between two different households
  • Parents may live far apart, making transitions difficult

Consistency in Rules/Routines

  • Parents may have different rules, discipline styles, etc.
  • Lack of consistency can be confusing for the child
  • Requires cooperation and compromise from parents

Continued Parental Conflict

  • High-conflict parents may continue arguing over decisions
  • Tension can be stressful and harmful for the child
  • Resentment or power struggles between parents

Practical Difficulties

  • Sharing belongings, duplicating items between homes
  • Keeping up with schoolwork, activities, etc. in two places
  • Child may feel lack of permanent, stable home

Joint custody demands a lot of maturity, communication and flexibility from parents. When it doesn‘t work well, it can create an unstable, stressful situation for the child.

Making Joint Custody Work

For joint custody to be successful, both parents need to be committed to making it work in the child‘s best interests. Some tips:

  • Have a detailed parenting plan that covers schedules, holidays, decision-making etc.
  • Keep communication channels open and low-conflict
  • Be flexible and willing to compromise when issues arise
  • Attend co-parenting counseling if you struggle to get along
  • Maintain consistent rules, routines and expectations in both homes
  • Don’t put the child in the middle of conflicts or disagreements
  • Make transitions and household transfers as smooth as possible
  • Be respectful of each other’s parenting time and authority
  • Prioritize the child’s needs over your own disagreements

Joint custody requires teamwork, even though you are no longer partners. The child’s wellbeing has to come before any lingering resentments or control issues.

Alternatives to Joint Custody

If joint custody isn’t feasible or appropriate, the court may award:

Sole Legal and Physical Custody to One Parent

  • One parent makes all major decisions
  • Child lives with that parent full-time
  • Other parent gets visitation rights

Sole Legal Custody to One, Joint Physical to Both

  • One parent decides on major issues like education
  • Both share physical custody according to a schedule

Bird’s Nest or Nesting Custody

  • Child stays in the family home full-time
  • Parents take turns living there during their custody time

The court aims for an arrangement that serves the child’s best interests based on the specific circumstances of the case.

The Court’s Perspective

When deciding custody, the court’s main considerations are:

  • The child’s safety, wellbeing and stability
  • Each parent’s ability to care for and nurture the child
  • The child’s existing routine, relationships and attachments
  • Any history of domestic violence, abuse or neglect
  • Each parent’s willingness to support the child’s relationship with the other
  • The child’s preferences, if they are mature enough

The goal is to create a stable, nurturing environment that allows the child to maintain meaningful relationships with both fit parents when possible.

Custody Evaluations and Mediation

In some cases, the court may order:Custody Evaluations

  • A mental health expert evaluates the family situation
  • Provides recommendations on custody and visitation
  • Helps identify any concerns like abuse, alienation etc.


  • Parents work with a neutral mediator
  • Try to reach an agreed custody arrangement
  • Avoids a lengthy, adversarial court battle

These can be useful tools when parents have a high level of conflict and cannot agree on a reasonable custody plan themselves.

Modifying a Custody Order

Custody orders are never permanently set in stone. As situations change, parents can request modifications by showing:

  • There has been a significant change in circumstances
  • Modifying custody would be in the child’s best interests

Common reasons include job changes, moving, remarriage, a parent’s inability to care for the child, or the child’s changing needs as they get older.The process typically involves filing a formal request, providing evidence of the change, and sometimes a new custody evaluation.

Custody Resources and Support

Dealing with custody issues can be highly emotional and legally complex. It’s wise to seek support, such as:

Having the right legal guidance and personal support system in place can make a big difference in navigating this challenging transition.

Final Thoughts on Joint Custody

Joint custody aims to keep both parents actively involved in a child’s life after separation or divorce. While it has potential benefits, it requires a high level of cooperation, communication and compromise from parents.The court will ultimately decide what custody arrangement is in the child’s best interests based on their specific family situation. With patience, flexibility and commitment, many families are able to make joint custody work successfully.

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