Most parents don’t want to lose their connection with their child just because their marriage or relationship with their child’s other parent ended. But it’s unlikely that either parent will have the same amount of time with their child as they did when everyone lived in the same house. The solution that most commonly gives both parents what they want and the child what they need is joint custody. But how can you get joint custody of your child? Take a look at what you need to know.
What is Joint Custody?
It’s worth pointing out that there is more than one type of custody. In most states, there is legal custody and then there is physical custody. Legal custody refers to the right to make decisions for your child, like what doctor they see and what school they attend. Parents often share legal custody even when one parent has primary physical custody. Physical custody refers to who the child lives with and who physically parents the child, and this is what most people are referring to when they talk about joint custody.
Joint custody does not necessarily mean that parents split parenting time 50/50, either. It simply means that both parents get significant parenting time. A joint custody decision can encompass a wide range of arrangements, from a 50/50 split to the child living with one parent and seeing the other only on alternating weekends and holidays. When you’re asking for joint custody, it’s worth considering what type of arrangement you want so that you can ask for that, even if you end up compromising on some of the details.
If you want joint custody, it’s important to demonstrate that you’re willing and able to work with your child’s other parent to achieve a mutually agreeable arrangement. It’s difficult for family courts to award joint custody to parents who refuse to work together, or who actively undermine each other.
You can show that you’re willing to cooperate by keeping your current custody or visitation arrangements as laid out in any court order currently in place. Make sure that you show up on time to pick up your children, and also that you bring them back on time. Don’t refuse to allow your child’s other parent to pick them up when your time is up or show up when it’s not your day to spend time with your child. Treat your child’s other parent with respect, and avoid engaging in arguments with them, even if they seem to be trying to pick a fight. Don’t badmouth your child’s other parent to your child or when your child can hear you. Avoid undermining the other parent’s parenting decisions – back them up when it comes to questions of discipline unless it’s harmful to your child to do so.
Sometimes, you can do everything right and still not be able to create a harmonious co-parenting relationship, especially if your child’s other parent is determined not to cooperate. Remember that you can only control your own actions. If the court sees that you’re making an effort and the other parent is not, that will cause them to look more favorably on your requests. So either way, you win by taking the opportunity to be the bigger person whenever possible.
Proximity is another important factor in determining joint custody. The further away the parents are from each other, the more difficult it is for courts to order a truly joint arrangement. Your child can’t be expected to change schools every week or month as they go back and forth between parents who live in different school districts, for example. They need some consistency in their routines and surroundings.
This may mean that if you want joint custody, you’ll need to remain in the area where your child already lives. The court won’t force your child and their other parent to move when and where you want to move, and they may also not want to let you take your child away from a community where they already have ties and relationships.
Mediation and Court
If you want joint custody, you’ll need to file a petition asking for it in family court. You can do this as part of a divorce proceeding or separately if you’re already divorced and looking to change your current custody arrangement, or if you were never married to the child’s other parent.
In many cases, the court will require you and your child’s other parent to try to work out a custody agreement in mediation before going to court. Mediation is when a third party helps you and your child’s other parent negotiate the terms of a custody arrangement. You may be asked to make some compromises, and you can ask your child’s other parent to make concessions as well. If you can come to an arrangement that both parties agree on with a mediator, you can simply file a parenting plan with the court, and in most circumstances, the judge will sign off on it.
If you’re unable to come to an arrangement in mediation, or if your state doesn’t require mediation and you don’t choose it on your own, then the next step will be a hearing in family court. You’ll present your request, as well as your reasons for asking for a change in the current custody arrangement if that’s what you’re doing, and your child’s other parent will present any arguments or objections that they have. The judge will make the final decision, and both you and the child’s other parent will be bound by it. Failing to comply with the judge’s order, even if it isn’t the outcome you wanted, could land you in legal hot water.
If you’re interested in seeking joint custody, you’ll need guidance on the legal issues and court procedures involved. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to hire an expensive attorney. A legal resource group like National Family Solutions can help you learn about your legal options and prepare you to present your case in court.