The concept of family in contemporary society is dynamic and complex. “Family” is constantly being redefined by single parent households, blended or step-families, intergenerational homes, and parents sharing the custody of children after separation or divorce. Many of these newly formed family situations are created as the result of separation and divorce – with the primary goal to ensure the best interests of the children. Divorcing parents have many legal options related to the division of their rights and responsibilities to their children. Common custody solutions include Legal Custody, Sole Legal Custody, and Sole Physical Custody. Joint custody is the arrangement of both parents having authority and responsibility for a child.
Joint custody arrangements can help to transform an unsuccessful marital relationship into a successful, productive parenting effort. While divorce may end the marital relationship, it does not end a couple’s relationship as parents. Rather than ceasing to be a family unit, the family unit is redefined and the couple adjusts their relationship to play a cooperative role in their child’s life. Neither parent feels as though they are a single parent and can benefit from knowing that there is someone to equally share their parenting joys, problems and concerns. The children benefit from continuing contact and involvement with both parents.
There are several joint custody arrangements:
- Joint physical custody allows children to spend a relatively equal amount of time with each parent in their respective residences. However, the time may not be equally split.
- Joint legal custody where the medical, educational, religious and other decisions and responsibilities regarding the children are shared.
- Both joint legal and joint physical custody. This arrangement is sometimes referred to as Shared Parenting, which involves a cooperative, parenting plan-based structure.
There are some reasons that joint custody does not work. Children who are shuffled around, used as parental pawns, or have parents that do not cooperate can suffer negative and lasting effects. However, when parents are committed and cooperative, children are raised in a supportive and respectful environment.
Many parents find “Parenting Plans” a valuable tool in resolving custody issues and defining provisions for custody and visitation. A parenting plan is a binding contract that is mandatory in many states. The plan addresses child-related expense distribution, decision-making, schedules and plans, education and also considers how parents will handle future disagreements and plan modification. Parenting plans are most successful when developed through expert and sensitive mediation.
A properly drafted parenting plan eliminates misunderstandings, miscommunication and misconceptions. The plan enables the children to smoothly transition between households, providing them with the security of knowing where they will be and with whom. The plan will evolve to meet the demands of changing situations and the children’s growth and independence. Holidays, vacations and special days such as birthdays and Mother’s Day are considered. When developing a parenting plan, other important considerations include:
- Residence – where will the children live and will there be any shared arrangements?
- Respect – the children must always respect the absent parent and be aware that their parents support each other in their efforts to cooperatively raise them.
- Contact – when children are at one parent’s residence, where and at what times will the children have contact with the other parent?
- Authority – while the child is with the other parent, the
separated parent must be willing to give authority and trust that the children have excellent physical, mental and emotional care.
- Specific issues including welfare, care and development, religion, education and sports are important issues that require planning.
Joint custody requires effective and collaborative co-parenting. The child’ s care, love, safety and security are the basis for the parents’ continuing relationship. Children are able to maintain a continuing bond with both parents, and enjoy the anticipation of time spent with each parent. A well-drafted parenting plan helps parents to cooperate and children to reap the benefits of growing up in a peaceful, well-adjusted environment – even though it means living in two separate homes. And like any successful partnership, joint custody offers the challenges and rewards that come from planning, hard work and self-sacrifice.