When parents divorce, the divorce decree will specify with whom the divorcing couple's children will live (and circumstances under which the other parent will visit with the children). Often, parents work out these arrangements between themselves, either completely voluntarily or with the assistance of their attorneys or a mediator. When they are unable to reach a decision, however, or when unmarried parents are unable to agree on who will have custody of their child, the court may intervene and make a decision based on the child's best interests.
What Are the Different Types of Joint Custody Options?
What Does Joint Legal and Physical Custody Involve?
In true "joint custody" arrangements, parents share equal "legal custody" and "physical custody" rights. This means that parents participate equally in making decisions about the child's upbringing and welfare, and split time evenly in having day-to-day care and responsibility for the child -- including the parent's right to have the child live with them.
True joint custody arrangements are rare because of their potential to cause both personal difficulties (stress, disruption of child's routine) and practical problems (scheduling, costs of maintaining two permanent living spaces for the child).
Example of a Joint Legal and Physical Custody Arrangement
Example: Mother and Father are divorced, and agree to a true joint custody arrangement over Child. Mother and Father will work together to reach an agreement on all major issues concerning Child's welfare and upbringing (legal custody), and agree to a schedule where Child lives with each parent for one month at a time (physical custody).
What Does Joint Legal Custody Mean?
Much more common than true joint custody arrangements (where both physical and legal custody are shared) is "joint legal custody," in which both parents share the right to make long-term decisions about the raising of a child and key aspects of the child's welfare, with physical custody awarded to one parent.
Example of a Joint Legal Custody Arrangement
Example: Mother and Father are divorced, and decide to share joint legal custody of Child, but also agree that Mother should have primary physical custody of Child. Mother and Father will work together to reach an agreement on all major issues concerning Child's welfare and upbringing (legal custody), but Child will live primarily with Mother.
Do I Need a Lawyer for Joint Custody Arrangements?
If you are going through a legal battle over child custody, 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 joint legal and physical 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. Most offer free consultations, so your first step should be to contact an experienced family attorney.