The Ins and Outs of Joint Custody

Child custody generally comes into play when you and your spouse have decided to get a divorce and have at least one child together. 

What is Joint Custody?

In most states, there are two types of joint custody – legal and physical. Legal joint custody refers to both parents having the ability to make decisions regarding their child. Joint physical custody means that your child will spend time with each parent for a specified amount of time. 

The time each of you spends with your child doesn’t have to be equal, and courts in some states call this “time sharing.”

Common Joint Custody Arrangements 

There are three different joint custody arrangements that are generally used. These are not set in stone, and you and your ex-spouse can come up with a plan that works for you and your children, as long as it is approved by the court. The most common joint custody arrangements are:

1.  2-2-3 Plan: This is when your child may spend Monday and Tuesday with their mother, Wednesday and Thursday with their father, and Friday through Sunday with their mother. Then, the schedule would flip, with Monday and Tuesday being spent with their dad, etc.

2.  2-2-5 Plan: Monday and Tuesday would be spent with their mother, Wednesday and Thursday with their father, and then alternating Friday through Sunday between both parents – one week with their mother and the next with their father. This type of plan generally works best when the child is older and has their own playdates and/or other obligations.

3.  Alternate Week Plan: This plan would have the child spending one week with their mother and the next with their father, and so on.

While babies generally will spend time in the care of their mothers, studies have shown that toddlers and preschool-age children benefit from going back and forth between Mom and Dad’s houses.

Rules to Make Joint Custody Work

In order to make joint custody of your child work, there are rules that you and your ex-spouse should abide by to make the situation less stressful for everyone, especially your child. The rules are:

  • Don’t Talk Bad About the Other Parent: Your child will internalize anything bad you say about your ex-spouse, and vice versa. While you may be angry with your ex-spouse, your child loves them, and you need to keep your feelings and opinions about your ex-spouse to yourself. 
  • It’s Not About You: Your divorce was between you and your ex-spouse, but joint custody is about your child. Joint custody will work best when you and your ex-spouse set aside your egos and feelings toward each other and focus on raising your child. 
  • Be Realistic About Your Commitments and Schedule: In many cases during a divorce, you may make unrealistic custody demands out of fear or insecurity. Be realistic about your schedule and your other commitments, because the only one who will suffer is your child. Look at child custody as a business arrangement, and look at the facts.
  • Make Your Own Custody Arrangement for Your Child: When you and your ex-spouse are discussing an appropriate custody agreement for your child, you want to take into consideration your child’s age, their personality, their schedules, your career and social commitments, school and extracurricular activities of your child, and the distance between you and your ex-spouse’s home.
  • A Bad Partner Doesn’t Make a Bad Parent: Even though you and your ex-spouse got a divorce and may believe the other one is a bad spouse, it doesn’t mean they are a bad parent. Your child wants and needs to feel that they are loved by both of you, so you should put your child’s well-being and needs above your own. 
  • Find A Way to Communicate: If joint custody is going to work, you and your ex-spouse must have good communication. There are many tools you and your ex-spouse can use to organize the custody of your child. You can use e-calendars, texts, and emails. This gives you both the ability to communicate essential information about your child in a quick and easy way. Additionally, joint calendars, expense logs, and message boards can keep a record of your and your ex-spouse’s communication in case a dispute arises and you have to go to court. 
  • Choose Your Battles: Try to prevent as many conflicts with your ex-spouse as possible by using open communication. If a disagreement does come up, you need to consider if the dispute is worth the battle. In many cases, it’s better to save your energy and get along with your ex, using the courts for things that really matter.
  • Make Your Child Feel Heard: A divorce is hard on your child in many ways. It’s important that you let your child voice their feelings and opinions about the divorce and custody. This can give your child a sense of control in the midst of what, to them, may seem like chaos.
  • Review Your Custody Arrangement Periodically: Situations change, and as your child gets older, your custody arrangement should change as well. You and your ex-spouse should discuss how the custody arrangement is working for your child and make any necessary adjustments. 

What to Do When You Have Joint Custody

Document Your Time

You should document the time you get to spend with your child. You can use a calendar or another tool that works for you to accomplish this. Eventually, you may see a pattern in which more time is being spent with the parent who isn’t the custodial parent. If this happens, you may want to consult a family law attorney to seek joint physical custody of your child.

Communicate Changes

You should always say something about a change of circumstances in order to modify your custody arrangement.

Make All Visitations

Unless it’s an emergency, you should go out of your way to make certain to have all the visitation time with your child that’s available. In the future, you or your ex-spouse may want to change the custody agreement and the court will look at the facts of each case. The fact that you kept all visitation times with your child could go a long way in front of a judge.

Build Your Case for Change 

Keep track of everything regarding your child, such as documentation, your expense log, visitation, denial of visitation from your ex-spouse, etc. The more you can document your case for changes to the current custody agreement, the more likely you are to succeed in court. 

Conclusion

It’s important for you to be clear about the type of joint custody you want when it comes to your child. Remember, there is both legal and physical joint custody, and you may decide you want both.

You should also keep in mind that the court will always act in what they believe to be in the best interest of your child, and you should too. By following the above rules to help a joint custody agreement work smoothly, you and your ex-spouse may be happier, but your child will be the one who benefits the most. Remember, your child wants to have both you and your ex-spouse in their lives; don’t ever make your child choose between you. 

Divorce can be hard on your child, and all the changes may leave them feeling confused and upset. It’s up to you and your ex-spouse to assure your child that you both love them very much and want what is best for them. It’s not about you. 

In any child custody case, you should retain the services of a child custody attorney who is familiar with the laws in your state and has the knowledge and experience to assist you in building your best case to put before the judge.