In an ideal world, divorced parents would always get along and they’d share custody of their kids without argument. A shared custody arrangement—also called “joint custody”—is often the best option for facilitating a child’s relationship with both parents. Many judges prefer joint custody arrangements when feasible and when it would serve a child’s best interests. However, it’s important to define all aspects of your custody agreement to avoid unnecessary arguments down the road.
What Is Joint Custody?
Joint or shared custody can refer to "physical custody," which relates to where the child resides and/or legal custody—which is a parent's right to make decisions regarding the child’s health and welfare, including:
- medical treatment
- education, and
- religious upbringing.
There are a variety of ways for family courts to award physical and legal custody. In some cases, a court may find that the parents should share both legal and physical custody, especially where they have a good working relationship, can cooperate when making decisions, live near one another, and are both able to provide a stable and safe living environment for their child. In other cases, one parent may have sole or primary physical custody, although the parents share legal custody. And finally, with some families, a judge may find that sharing physical custody is fine, but because of one parent's proven track record of being unnecessarily difficult, it would be best to give legal custody to the other parent.
Should I Seek Joint Custody?
Many parents go into a custody proceeding thinking they must receive sole or joint custody in order to "win." However, your child’s best interests should be your only motivating factor.
Joint custody is usually appropriate when both parents have a desire to work together and actively parent their child. When parents can cooperate and effectively put their child’s needs before their own differences, joint custody can greatly benefit a child. Alternatively, sharing custody is a bad idea if one parent is seeking custody to avoid child support payments or to get back at the other parent.
What Should I Include in a Joint Custody Agreement?
Parents who are able to agree on a joint custody arrangement still have a lot of important details to work out. For example, where will your child live? How many days will your kids spend with you each week? Who will cover transportation costs? It’s important to define each parent’s responsibilities in a custody agreement, which is often referred to as a parenting agreement or visitation schedule
Custody agreements usually include the following terms:
- the custody schedule during the child’s school year
- pick-up and drop off locations for custody exchanges
- day-to-day management of your child’s life and extracurricular activities
- holiday visitation schedule
- each parent’s child support responsibilities
- each parent’s responsibility for maintaining health, dental and life insurance on the child's behalf
- allocating the tax dependency exemption to each parent
- each parent’s ability to make decisions on child’s behalf
- which parent has the final say when parents disagree
- custody changes in the event of either parent’s relocation, and
- visitation with third parties like grandparents or participation in extended family events.
The above list isn’t exhaustive, but can act as a basic guide while you try to figure out the joint custody agreement that works best for your family. You’ll be able to avoid a lot of unnecessary conflict with your child’s other parent by planning ahead in a custody agreement.
Questions for Your Attorney
- I have a joint custody order, but my ex doesn’t make his visits. Should I try to modify the custody agreement?
- Will I lose joint custody if I have to move for a job?
- My ex and I think joint custody would be best for our children, but we already fight a lot. Will a joint custody arrangement work for us?