Joint physical custody, which is also called “shared custody,” or “shared parenting,” or “dual residence,” means the child/ren live with one parent for part of the week (or part of the year), and live with the other parent during the remaining time. In a joint physical custody routine, the both parents share approximately equal parenting time.
Shared parenting has always been an option for parents. In the past, this was referred to as “joint physical custody.” There is more and more support to make shared parenting the legal standard in cases when both parents desire to raise their children and are fit to do so. According to the Children’s Rights Council, there are six states – Alaska, Iowa, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, and Wisconsin – that currently have legislation that promotes equal access to both parents, and at least four others – Michigan, North Dakota, New York and Massachusetts – have considered similar legislation. Normally, joint physical custody means both physical custody and legal custody.
Many pros make joint physical custody attractive. For one, the children live with both parents on a regular basis, and both parents are established as equals and enjoy approximately the same amount of parenting time with the children because neither parent is deemed a “visitor” in the children’s lives. Moreover, the children may also have the opportunity to make new friends during the time spent with the parent who moves to a new location.
Of course, the children have to adjust to living in at least one new location, and the packing and moving from one home to the other can be extremely stressful for a child.
This type of child custody is not ideal for every family because there can be a lot of running back to the other house to pick up forgotten items, and placing responsibility on the children to maintain their own belongings can become excessive.
As the support for shared parenting spreads, however, more and more parents are learning how to co-parent well. It can be done, and in situations where the child previously enjoyed relationships with two fit, involved parents, shared parenting is an option that should not be overlooked. Joint physical and joint legal custody demands that that both parents are considered fit.
Making the adjustment to living in two homes is certainly a challenge that requires a lot of patience, encouragement, and collaboration. When it is done well, it can be ideal for the children.
Many people (including some judges) believe shared parenting is impossible to pull off, but divorced parents who put their children first are not too contentious to equally share the responsibility of raising their kids together. Parents who were once married and have decided to terminate their marital relationship must transition to a different way of relating. With the help of mediators and parent educators, divorced parents can learn how to reshape their working relationship into one that is beneficial for the children.
While regular visits are critical for families whose current custody agreement does not include shared parenting, they are a poor substitute for the relationship that the parent and child would have enjoyed if they were still living together.
It is true that in situations where a family is transitioning from one parent being the primary custodial parent to both parents sharing approximately equal parenting time, child support paid by the previously non-custodial parent is normally reduced. However, this is because that parent now spends more time directly with the child, and as a result, is paying for the child’s needs in a more direct manner while the child is under his/her care.
Getting used to shared parenting can feel like an inconvenience in the beginning. However, there are also a lot of benefits to both parents having an established routine of alternating responsibility for caring for the children. For example, parents with a regular shared parenting routine can schedule their working hours while the child is with the other parent and, as a result, reduce or eliminate the need for child care. It also allows each parent to build in some regular “me time” while the child is in the care of the other parent.
Shared parenting is an option that should not be overlooked. It does require both parents to put the needs of the child ahead of their own unresolved anger and personal preferences. However, with help from mediators and parent educators, shared parenting is an option that can be extremely beneficial to the entire family.
While trying to find parenting regimes that involve each parent, both spouses must also recognize that not all children thrive when they’re forced to transition back and forth between two homes.