During a messy or difficult divorce, it can be tempting to want to punish your ex-spouse for his or her actions while married. During the divorce proceedings, you may find yourself wanting to fight for sole custody of your shared child. While it might seem fitting at the time, in the grand scheme of things, it’s not fair to the child. Yes, you are mad at your ex-spouse right now, but that is still your child’s mom or dad. Fighting for sole custody in the absence of circumstances that make it appropriate is unfair to everyone involved.
How Does Joint Custody Work?
As the name suggests, joint custody means both parents share custody of the children. Just how the court splits the custody depends on the exact circumstances, what you ask for, and, if your child is a teenager, what he or she prefers.
Joint custody actually has two parts. There’s physical custody and legal custody. Physical custody is where the child will live. If you have joint legal custody, the child lives with both parents at some point. You and your ex-spouse will create a joint custody agreement with the arrangements. It might or might not be 50/50; your child might spend equal amounts of time with each parent or one parent might have the child more of the time.
Joint legal custody means that both parents can make legal decisions for the child. These include decisions that have to do with school, medical care, financial and legal issues. If both parents have legal custody, you must be able to talk with one another in a civil manner and make decisions together. In some cases, one parent will have the role of tie-breaker if both parents cannot agree, but this privilege should not be used frequently or lightly. The goal is for both parents to come to decisions together whenever possible.
Benefits to Children When Parents Have Joint Custody
Parents and children both benefit from joint custody, but the children stand to gain the most. Children whose parents have joint custody enjoy some of the following benefits.
Children feel more secure when they know both parents are making decisions for them. When one parent has sole legal custody, it can feel like that parent is making decisions just to anger the other parent. This can take its toll on a child’s wellbeing.
Parents tend to be friendlier to one another when they have joint custody. They have no choice but to interact with one another when they share legal or physical custody. That’s not to say that there won’t be fights, but parents tend to work harder to get along when they know they have to interact for the children.
Children receive discipline and teaching from both sides, which can help them feel as if both parents care. In some cases, one parent will neglect his or her responsibility to establish and maintain rules and consequences, but as long as the two of you can work it out, your child will benefit from having both parents actively involved in looking out for his or her best interest.
Different Ways to Schedule Equal Custody
When you share physical custody of the children, there are numerous ways that you can schedule it. While the most typical schedule in years past was for the child to live with the mother during the week and the father every other weekend, many current schedules are more equitable. Be aware that the goal of joint custody is not necessarily to schedule time completely equally down to the minute or hour; the goal is for the child to have enough time with each parent to cultivate a healthy relationship and for both parents to have a lot of influence on the child.
A few examples of schedules for equal custody that might work include:
- Alternating Weeks – The child spends an entire week (Sunday – Saturday) with one parent and then the following week with the other parent (Sunday – Saturday)
- Midweek Visit – If you are on the alternating weeks schedule, you may want to throw in a midweek visit too. Sometimes children will go see the other parent on a Wednesday or Thursday after school to give that parent more time with them and to prevent going an entire week between visits.
- Midweek Overnight – Some parents include a midweek overnight rather than just a quick midweek visit. This could mean staying overnight at the other parent’s house on a Wednesday or Thursday night in addition to the every other week schedule they may have.
- Rotating Schedules – There are many ways to rotate a child custody schedule. For example, a 3-3-4-4 schedule means children spend 3 days with one parent, then 3 days with the other parent. They then spend 4 days with the first parent and 4 days with the other parent. It then goes back to the 3-day rotation. The other common rotating schedules are the 2-2-3 and the 2-2-5-5 schedule.
Tips for Special Circumstances
These custody examples all work for typical situations where there are school-aged children and both parents live within a reasonable distance of one another. Some special circumstances that may require a little tweaking to the schedule include:
- Infants – Infants require special care and more frequent visits. Trying to schedule every other weekend visitation with an infant probably would make bonding with your baby difficult. Instead, scheduling more frequent visits can help the bonding process for both child and parent. In addition, breastfeeding needs to be considered if that is applicable to your family. If the mother is nursing exclusively, overnight visits might need to wait until he or she is sleeping through the night without nursing. In some cases, a mother might be able to provide a bottle of pumped milk for an overnight feeding or a family might decide to supplement with baby formula.
- Toddlers – Toddlers also need a lot of hands-on care and can have trouble with transitions as well as with separation anxiety. Seeing each parent several times during the week can be helpful. If he or she has not been used to overnight visits, they need to be phased in gradually.
- Teens – Sharing custody of teens may require a little more flexibility. Teens tend to get involved in more activities, which can make scheduling time with each parent a little more challenging. In addition, some teens feel strongly that they would like to live with one parent or the other. Involving your teen in the decisions can make things easier.
Fighting for joint custody can be beneficial for both parents and kids. While emotions can run high during a divorce, it’s important to think of the future and the wellbeing of your children. When both parents have a say in the child’s life, all of you can enjoy the benefits that go along with having stronger parent-child relationships. Contact National Family Solutions for assistance with getting equal custody of your child.