Though both terms of custody may seem confusingly similar, there are a few important differences to consider. Shared custody focuses more on time shared with children, whereas joint custody involves equal rights in decision making, and the individual responsibilities of each parent.

Shared Custody

Both parents have the legal right to physically share their children. Generally, each parent cares for and houses their children for similar amounts of time. Important decisions (parental rights) regarding their children’s health care, education, and religion may or may not be shared. Sometimes, these decisions will be left to a single parent. If decision making is shared, both parents try to cooperate in the best interest of their children.

Shared custody may be more appropriate in the following scenarios:

  • One parent is away from home for long periods of time
  • If one parent is financially unstable
  • If one parent is injured, ill, or otherwise unable to care for their children

In terms of visitation, the best outcome is if both parents can agree upon a schedule. If this is not possible, the judge will decide which parent will have primary custody. The judge may also arrange a visitation schedule.

Joint Custody 

Both parents will equally share responsibilities and decisions regarding the upbringing of their children. Since each parent is highly involved, they must continually work together and agree upon decisions, schedules, and other shared responsibilities in their children’s lives.

Joint custody may be more appropriate in the following scenarios:

  • Both parents live and work in the same area
  • The children are teenagers

Generally, a rotating visitation schedule will be created between both parents. If the parents cannot agree upon a visitation schedule, then the judge will decide how much time the children will spend with each parent.


Do I Need a Lawyer for Shared or Joint Custody?

Determining whether shared custody or joint custody is the right decision, is a difficult process. Working with a qualified child custody lawyer in your area will lessen the difficulty of dealing with a custody situation, and understanding how much a child custody lawyer costs can help you understand your options.