Joint custody involves separated or divorced parents sharing parental duties and time with their children, as well as continuing to make important decisions (parental rights) regarding the child’s upbringing. The two types of shared custody are legal and physical.

  • Joint Legal Custody: Important decisions regarding the child, and involving issues such as medical, religious affiliation, and education must be agreed upon by both parents.
  • Joint Physical Custody: The amount of time each parent spends with the child.

How Does Joint Custody Work?

If the parents cannot come to an agreement on how much time each of them will spend with their child, the court will. Typically, courts favor joint legal custody arrangements because they allow both parents to be involved in many aspects of their child’s life. Even in cases where one parent has primary or sole physical custody, joint custody may still be awarded. When the court is considering granting physical custody, several limitations may exist, such as:

  • The parents live far away from one another.
  • It would cause disruption to the child.
  • School schedules.
  • The child prefers one parent over the other.
  • Age and maturity of the child.
  • Reasonable time with each parent isn’t obtainable.

What Is a Joint Custody Agreement?

A joint custody agreement outlines the responsibilities and time spent with the child, by each parent. Commonly, parents enter this agreement voluntarily, and submit it to the court. If approved, it will become a formal court order and is legally enforceable by law.

Generally, this type of agreement must be meticulous since the parents will likely be spending an unequal amount of time with the child. Unlike shared custody, where parents may alternate weeks, joint custody tends to involve specific days and time frames spent with the child. Since there may be unequal custody time, other concerns such as child support and visitation may arise.

What Are Some Tips for Getting a Joint Custody Agreement?

To create and keep a joint custody agreement civil, and less taxing on all parties involved, there are a few pointers to keep in mind:

  • You must specifically request joint custody as it is not automatically granted. Sometimes, it is an alteration to sole custody.
  • Keep your child’s best interest in mind, and try to work cooperatively with one another.
  • Family law mediation can help save time and lower costs in reaching an agreeable schedule, as opposed to ironing out all the details in court.
  • If circumstances change, such as new or lost jobs, moving, or remarriage, the agreement may be modified.

Is Joint Custody Difficult?

Joint custody and legal custody can be taxing on everyone involved. Both parents will have to maintain their homes for their child, and will also have to cooperate with one another. It can be stressful on the child, too. Splitting time between parents could mean different sets of friends, missed activities because he or she was at one home and not the other, as well as being in the middle of two parents who may no longer get along.

Why Should I Use Joint Custody If It’s So Difficult?

Joint custody provides both parents the option to spend time with and influence their child. It is not uncommon for both parents to want to live with their child, and joint custody provides such opportunity. In cases where the child’s best interest is jeopardized, such as abuse or drug addiction, the court may dismiss any notion of joint custody, and award the other parent with sole custody.

When Is Joint Legal Custody Granted?

Since joint legal custody grants each parent the right to make important decisions, and both have to agree upon these decisions, it is often more feasible to grant legal custody to the parent with primary physical custody. However, if the following apply, joint legal custody may make more sense:

  • The parents are willing and able to cooperate with one another.
  • The child has special needs that require more attention, such as education or medical issues.
  • The best interest of the child is split legal custody.

Each parent has access to the child’s records, such as school or medical, and can therefore contribute equally to any major decisions. The daily activities of the child, such as homework time, do not have to be agreed upon, as the parent who has the child at any given moment is responsible for those day-to-day decisions.

What if We Would Like to Agree Upon Joint Legal Custody?

In cases where both parents have agreed upon joint legal custody, usually in family mediation, they can submit their agreement to the judge who may then finalize the decision with a court order. Typically, the judge will implement whatever joint custody situation that the parents agree on, but the judge still has the power to order a different custody arrangement if they think it is best.

Do I Need a Lawyer to Help Me With My Case?

Legal cases involving child custody can be stressful, emotional, and traumatic for everyone involved. An experienced child custody lawyer can help you to understand your rights, assist you in developing a plan of action, and can help you gain the type of custody agreement that is most suitable for you and your child.