In legal terms, child custody is used to describe the legal and practical relationship between a child and their parent or legal guardian. Generally, child custody determinations occur at the same time as a divorce or legal separation. 

Legal custody refers to the right and obligation to make decisions about the child’s upbringing, such as their education, medical care, discipline, and religious education. Physical custody refers to the actual, physical location of the child. Thus, a parent who has physical custody of a child has the right to determine where their child will live, and where they spend the majority of their time.

There are different types of child custody arrangements. One of these is shared parenting, commonly referred to as “shared custody”. This arrangement allows the child to have frequent and continuing contact with both parents. 

In shared custody arrangements, each parent generally has physical custody of the child fifty percent of the time. As such, the child’s time and interaction is equally divided between both parents. 

The idea behind shared parenting, or shared custody, is to provide the child with a more balanced upbringing. Shared parenting can also refer to a relatively new approach to parenting planning. 

Under this approach, both the father and the mother receive an equal share of responsibility and duties. In comparison past arrangements usually granted physical custody of the child while the father contributed financial support.

The child’s best interests standard is used by courts to determine child custody rights and arrangements, regardless of state laws which vary on the subject. This standard dictates that all decisions regarding the child and child custody must be made with what is best for the child placed above the personal preferences of the parents. It is generally in the child’s best interests to be involved with both of their parents equally.

How is Shared Parenting Different from Joint Custody?

Shared custody and joint custody are often used interchangeably, but the two custody arrangements are different. Shared parenting or shared custody focuses on sharing time with the child, whereas joint custody involves equal rights regarding making decisions involving the child. 

Joint custody allows the parents greater control over the custody agreement, with one parent commonly having physical and legal custody rights, and the other non-possessory parent having visitation rights. 

Additionally, joint custody arrangements are less focused on the amount of time spent with each parent, making this arrangement more appropriate in cases where both parents live and work in the same area.

Shared parenting, or shared custody, primarily focuses on the amount of time the child spends with each parent. As such, this arrangement may be better suited for cases in which one parent is to shoulder more of the responsibility. 

An example of this would be a case in which one parent works out of state. In such a case, the child would get the same amount of time and care from each parent, but the custodial parent would be responsible for the bulk of decision-making during the child’s stay. 

A shared arrangement may also be more appropriate when one parent lacks a stable income, or is chronically ill or injured. This could solve certain financial issues related to child care for the parent who does not have a stable source of income.

How is a Shared Parenting Order Obtained? Can a Shared Parenting Order Be Modified?

All child custody arrangements must be approved by the court, and such orders are generally issued simultaneously with a divorce ruling. Child custody orders typically address child custody rights designation, child support, and visitation rights. 

A couple that is not married may also file for a court hearing in order to determine whether shared parenting options are available for them based on the specifics of their circumstances. 

Child custody orders that have been issued by a court are legally enforceable under state laws. This means that both parents must adhere to the order or risk being held in contempt of court. Violations of shared parenting orders may result in other legal consequences including loss of parenting privileges, or monetary fines.

A typical shared parenting order will detail aspects of raising the child. Some examples of this include:

  • Visitation and custody schedule for each parent;
  • Outlining the rights and duties for each parent;
  • Child support calculations, figures, and schedules;
  • Distribution of duties and responsibilities for each parent; and
  • Instructions regarding any special needs that the child may have.

Like other child custody orders, a shared parenting order can sometimes be modified with the approval of a judge. A shared parenting arrangement generally implies that the parents will be cooperating with each other, especially regarding schedules and responsibilities. As such, the parents may need to negotiate with each other in order to discuss any desired modifications.

In order to obtain a modification, the court must be petitioned. Either or both parties will likely need to present evidence that supports any proposed changes. An example of this would be if one parent has moved away and is requesting that the visitation schedule be modified in order to accommodate those changes.

Do I Need an Attorney to Obtain a Shared Parenting Order?

Regardless of how well divorcing parents can work together, it would be in your best interest to consult with a skilled and knowledgeable child custody attorney. Shared parenting can be an ideal custody arrangement, but is not available in some cases. 

An experienced child custody attorney can help determine if such an arrangement is available to you based on the specifics of your case. Finally, an attorney can represent you in court as needed.