Joint Physical Custody: A Brief Guide

Joint custody can be a great option if both you and your ex-spouse want to continue living with your children in some manner. However, it’s not for everyone. You should carefully consider all your options and do what is in the best interest of your child.

What is Joint Physical Custody?

Joint custody is sometimes referred to as shared custody, shared parenting, or dual residence custody, depending on where you live. Joint physical custody is when the children live with you for part of the week, or part of the year, and then live with their other parent the rest of the time. 

Joint physical custody and joint legal custody are two different things. Legal custody refers to having a say in any major decisions regarding your child such as schooling, religion, medical treatment, etc. 

It’s possible, although rare, that one parent may have legal custody even if they have joint physical custody and vice versa. It’s more common for parents who have joint physical custody to have joint legal custody as well.

What Are the Pros of Having Joint Physical Custody?

Some of the pros of having joint physical custody include, but aren’t limited to:

  • The children can enjoy the benefits of living with each of their parents regularly.
  • Each parent is considered an equal and enjoys about the same amount of time with their child.
  • The child has the chance to make new friends during the time they spend with a parent who moves to a new location.
  • Neither you nor your ex-spouse is considered a visitor in your child’s life.
  • Your child will learn to be responsible for their own things.
  • Your child will get to spend time with their extended family on both sides.
  • You will have help and support in raising your child.

What Are the Cons of Having Joint Physical Custody?

Just as there are positives in a joint physical custody arrangement, there are also cons. They include:

  • Your child will have to adjust to living in a new location part of the time.
  • Having to pack and switch homes can be stressful for your child.
  • Joint physical custody does not work for some families.
  • There can be a lot of time spent running back and forth to retrieve forgotten items. 

Why Would the Court Order Joint Physical Custody?

Courts will always award custody based on what they believe to be in the best interest of the child. If the court decides that joint physical custody is in the best interest of your child, then they may order joint physical custody. 

How Do I Know if Joint Physical Custody is Best for Our Family?

If you are going through the courts to decide the custody of your child, you may have many people trying to tell you what is best for your child. Because of this, it’s vitally important that you really take time and think through what you know about your child so you can make a decision based on their needs instead of what you want. 

Child custody isn’t about convenience, it’s about what custody agreement will be in the best interest of your child. If your child is happy living in two homes, then joint physical custody may be your solution. 

However, if your child becomes nervous and/or anxious when it comes time to travel back and forth, then it may be better for them if you choose one home as their primary residence while still sharing a 50/50 child parenting time schedule. 

Some of the other custody arrangements to consider include:

  • Sole Legal Custody: This means that just one parent is responsible for making any decisions about your child’s life. 
  • Physical Custody: Physical custody refers to where your child lives on a regular basis. 
  • Sole Physical Custody: This doesn’t mean your ex-spouse will be banned from seeing their child. It just means that you or the other parent will be the primary guardian. Visitation is arranged so the non-custodial parent has time with their child on a regular basis.

How Can My Ex-Spouse and I Make Joint Physical Custody Work?

If you and your ex-spouse live close together, it makes joint physical custody a lot easier on both you and your child. If you and your ex-spouse live far apart, the situation can be tough because you and your ex-spouse will spend more time traveling to do the custody exchanges, or you will have to have a joint custody arrangement that allows your child to spend a longer amount of time with each other. 

Additionally, having big breaks away from your child can cause you to feel depressed and your child may forget routines and habits they had when they are visiting the other parent. 

How Can My Ex-Spouse and I Make a Joint Custody Plan?

It’s important that both you and your ex-spouse communicate with each other about your individual wants and needs. Once you understand where your ex-spouse is coming from, you can develop a plan that works for you, your ex-spouse, and your child. 

A few of the things each of you need to consider are listed below. They include:

  1. Distance between your house and your ex-spouse’s house
  2. Distance from both of your homes to your child’s school
  3. Both of your work schedules
  4. Your other obligations
  5. How unexpected matters that arise will be handled
  6. Who will take care of your child if school is canceled
  7. Activities your child participates in regularly
  8. Vacations

You can choose from many shared custody schedules from one week to one week off, etc. It could also be beneficial for you and your ex-spouse to have a trial period for each custody plan you’re considering, to see what one works best for all of you before you finalize things with the court or select to modify your child custody arrangement. 

Conclusion

You and your ex-spouse should consider a joint custody arrangement, as well as the advantages of that parenting plan as you both make decisions that will affect your family. If you and your ex-spouse can come to an agreement that makes sense and works for you and your child, then you may be able to avoid expensive court action or contentious litigation that can make your divorce and child custody arrangements difficult. For the best information, you should consult a family law attorney in your state who specializes in child custody matters.