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.