Joint vs. Sole Custody in a Parenting Plan

Joint child custody is the alternative to sole custody. Joint custody allows both parents to share legal custody (the authority to make decisions) and physical custody (sharing time) of their children after a divorce.

This type of parenting grants children of divorced couples the opportunity for the maximum continuing physical and emotional contact with both parents. Children grow emotionally more stable when both parents participate in their lives, and joint custody is endorsed by many behavioral researchers. This regime has become so popular that it has become the first choice of custody laws in the majority of the states.

For most of the twentieth century, courts routinely granted sole physical custody to the mother and visitation rights to the father. Psychologists argued, however, that children benefited by having the father actively involved in their children's live. Fathers now take a more active role in their children's lives, leaving behind the traditional view of fathers as simply "providers." Several sociological factors intervened in making joint custody the court's favorite choice when deciding on custody and visitation issues. Changes in the traditional marital roles and the rising number of working mothers are two of them.

Judges decide in favor of a shared parenting plan when both parents are equally competent. Joint custody is presumed as a matter of law that this is in the child's best interest, the standard upon which all divorce matters relating to children are decided.

No parent should be denied child custody, unless there are reasons to believe that his or her parental relationship will negatively affect the child. Courts typically favor sole custody today when domestic violence, child neglect, or abuse is present.

Joint custody works best when parents live near each other and can be civil to one another, when their schedules are stable but flexible enough to be changed when necessary, and when they can afford two full residences. Parents must put the children and their needs first and cooperate with each other.

Joint custody presents certain disadvantages. The biggest complaint is about the moving of the children from one home to another. However, this can be easily solved with a fair and practical parenting plan. If parents agree to longer time-share periods, the frequency of these moves can be reduced, thus providing more stability for the children.



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Author: Jayne A. Major, Ph.D.


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