Shared Custody vs Joint Custody

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What Is the Difference Between Shared Custody and Joint Custody?

When determining child custody issues, a court may prescribe one of several different custody arrangements.  The type of child custody that is required may depend on the needs of the child and the capabilities of each parent.  If both parents will continue to be involved in the rearing of the child, courts may either prescribe shared custody or joint custody.

The term shared custody is often used as a synonym for joint custody.  Both shared custody and joint custody fall into the category of “shared parenting.”  However, shared custody refers to a specific type of shared parenting wherein each parent receives a roughly equal amount of time spent with the child.  Joint custody focuses more on the tasks and responsibilities of each parent.  

In both shared custody and child custody, the needs of the child always take priority over the desires of the parents.  Courts will use the “best interest of the child” standard to determine whether shared custody or joint custody would be appropriate for the child.  Shared custody may not be available in all jurisidictions, as joint custody is a more commonly issued arrangement.   

What Does Shared Custody Involve?

In a shared custody arrangement, each parent has approximately equal periods of custody of the child.  For this type of child custody arrangement to work, each of the parents should live in close proximity to one another, in order to facilitate the child’s interactions at school and with friends.

Shared custody seeks to arrive at a more equal distribution of time that the child spends with each parent, regardless of the duties and responsibilities that each individual parent may be responsible for. In addition, shared custody often requires a great degree of cooperation between the parents.

Thus, shared custody is ideal in situations where the parents are able to agree on basic decisions without further confrontations occurring.  Also, shared parenting may provide the child with a more stable environment, as the time spent with each parent will be about the same for each party.

What Does Joint Custody Involve?

In comparison, joint custody is a more general term that refers to a basic division of child-rearing tasks between the parents.  Joint custody focuses more on the tasks and duties that are attributed to each parent.  Unlike shared custody, joint custody places less emphasis on achieving an equal amount of time that the child spends with each parent.

Most joint custody arrangements involve an alternating schedule between each parent.  In many joint custody agreements, one parent may have a much greater amount of physical custody time than the other parent, or one parent may have much more parenting responsibilities than the other.

Therefore, joint custody arrangements may be ideal where one parent is in a better position to care for the child than the other is.  Joint custody allows for the child to receive the care of one parent while still being able to interact on a regular basis with the other parent.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Shared Custody or Joint Custody Arrangements?

When undergoing child custody hearings, it is always helpful to have a lawyer present for advice and counseling. A child custody lawyer can assist you in obtaining the right custody arrangement for your child or children.  Unique child custody arrangements such as shared custody may not always be an option in all jurisdictions.  Child custody laws vary widely by state, and your attorney can help explain your state’s rules to you.

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Last Modified: 04-07-2014 01:29 PM PDT

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