In the past, the children of a married couple would normally be awarded to the mother if there's a divorce. She would have sole physical and legal custody. This means that the children would always live with the mother, and she would have the authority to make all the life decisions. The father's role was usually just to pay child support to help in the upbringing of the children.
Society now has a different outlook on child custody. Most people believe that both parents should be involved in a child's life. Shared parenting is when both parents physically and legally share in the parenting duties. Another name for shared parenting is called joint custody.
Best Interests of the Child
A divorce can be hard on everyone in the family, especially children. Courts generally prefer joint custody arrangements. They believe that the best interests of the child are met when both parents are involved in the child's life. Being able to interact with both parents will help a child during this difficult time and may minimize any bad effects from the divorce.
Many parents that are legally obligated to pay child support won't pay if they don't feel a part of their children's lives. Usually, the more a parent is involved in his child's life, the greater the chance he'll pay his support obligation. Child support is more often paid under a joint custody arrangement. A parent that's only awarded visitation rights or no rights at all will less likely pay support.
In order to make joint custody work, both parents need to be able to communicate with each other. Since decisions on the child's upbringing are shared, having friendly and open discussions between parents are in the child's best interests. A parent shouldn't make a major decision that affects the child without discussing the situation first with the other parent.
Respecting the Other Parent
Sometimes hurt and angry feelings are left over after a divorce. It can be tempting to strike out at the other parent with hurtful words or actions. However, both parents need to focus on any children they have. Each parent should respect the other parent, even if it’s difficult. One parent shouldn't badmouth or fight with the other. Both parents need to think of themselves as belonging on the same team, with the goal of taking care of their children the best they can.
Location of Parents
Joint custody arrangements will work much better if the parents are located somewhat close to each other. Since the child will be going back and forth between homes, a longer distance will make it more difficult to work out the travel arrangements. Both parents should keep this in mind when choosing the location of a home or a job.
Disadvantages of Joint Custody
Every family situation is different. For most families, a joint custody arrangement will be best for the children. However, there are disadvantages to having joint custody. Some examples include:
- Children may never feel settled since they have to travel back and forth between two homes
- Long travel times if parents live far apart
- Parents may continue to fight and badmouth each other if they have to share decision-making authority
- Parents may not be able to move or take a certain job since they have to stay in a close proximity to each other
Even with these disadvantages, most families are better off sharing custody. The more effort and sacrifice each parent puts into a joint custody arrangement, the more successful the parents can be in providing a safe and loving environment for their children.
Questions for Your Attorney
- Should I share custody if I believe the other parent has an alcohol problem? What if he's just a former alcoholic?
- Is it okay to pick up and drop off my child at the other parent's house during the joint custody arrangement? Is it better to have a neutral meeting area?
- What should I do if I want my child to go to private school, and the other parent wants him to go to public school?