Shared Physical Custody 7

Equal Parenting Time for Both Parents

Shared physical custody (sometimes referred to as “equal” or “joint” physical custody) of children after a divorce has become more and more common over the last ten years or so. Still, joint physical custody is not generally the court’s default or most commonly-ordered custody determination.

Joint or shared physical custody means that each parent has significant periods of physical custody of the child – maybe not exactly 50/50 but something close to that ratio. The custodial schedule in such an arrangement might allow for monthly, weekly or other regular transitions between parents.

The courts will take a very close look at the total circumstances to determine if a shared custody arrangement would be in the best interest of the child. Historically, most courts felt that it was not in the best interest of a child to be alternated from parent to parent. The concern is that such a custody arrangement would be unstable and confusing for the child.

One circumstance when it is likely (but not required) that a judge would order shared physical custody is when the child’s parents are in agreement with the shared custody arrangement.

If  parents agree that shared physical custody is in the best interest of the child or children and they can successfully work out the details without much serious conflict, the court may very well defer to their parental judgment. Parents who can amicably reach such an accord are much more likely to make a shared custody situation workable for the family in the long run.

A detailed parenting agreement (sometimes known as a parenting plan) is essential to managing shared physical custody. Parents should consider school attendance areas (where will the children attend school now or in the future if they live in the different areas) and how to handle transportation to and from school and school activities. The agreement should probably even address responsibility for incidental expenses and how to deal with exchanges of clothing and other items.

In a shared custody situation, there may be an adjustment made to the child support calculation.You will need to consult the child support guidelines for your states.

The bottom line is that parents who want to split custody of the kids will need to work towards a negotiated settlement. Talk to your divorce attorney to see if this might be a realistic option for you.

Note that  joint legal custody is a separate custody concept, which grants parents shared authority to make decisions for the child, usually with respect to school, health and other life-impacting decisions – it is usually the presumed legal custody status for divorcing parents. An equal split of a child’s physical custody remains a bit more unusual. Read more about types of custody.


  • krystal

    so what if the parents agree on the physical custody but not on the legal custody? My sons father and i agree on sharing him 50/50, however we do not agree on the legal issues.He would always leave me out of school functions and activities that was going on. I was trying to keep everything nice and civil for our sons sake, but then my sons father would start doing stuff concerning our son without me knowing.Things started to get ugly so thats when i decided to go back to court and have the judge decide everything.

    • It’s best to put the custody agreement in writing. If you don’t have a custody order stating that you share legal custody of your son, and believe you should be entitled to share in legal decisions on your child’s behalf, then you should work with a lawyer to draft an agreement stating so that you and the father sign.

  • Susie

    Our situation is that the mother of our grandchildren is doing the same thing as your ex. Our son is about to give up. We are waiting for the courts decision on shared physical custody and I feel that it is going to be hopeless for us. Jamie gave up all she had to run off and take the kids and start her life over for another woman. We checked out Face Book and discovered that this had been going on for several years. I’m in shock. Our attorney says to take control of our lives. Stay in contact with the schools and the doctors and whom ever she is keeping from us. Take control of your life and in the best interest of your kids don’t give up. Be strong. Think with your mind and not your heart. Good Luck.

  • KT

    What if the % of time is 36%/64%….Can you still consider that shared physical custody?

    • According to the article above “each parent has significant periods of physical custody.” I would bet 36%/64% qualifies.

  • Donna

    My husband has Shared Physical Custody of his two miner childern, for the past 3 years this has been going on & now his X is not letting anyone pick the kids up during the week unless its him doing so. His X want him to prove to her hes spending time with them. Im just wanting to know is she can do that? Would a judge take that away from him? We live in North Carolina.

  • Amanda filgo

    We live in Iowa and the courts just agreed that a 6 month old baby should be split 50 50.We are utterly shocked at this decision.they were not together as a couple in pregnancy.the baby still wakes up for the comfort of his mommy.we got to see him yesterday this is our first week and he looked sad..How could a Judge think that this is okay to take a baby away from his mom so young..We are devastated.