Separation and divorce are stressful situations for any couple. At such times it sometimes seems that you and your former spouse or partner are at odds about everything, from property to who gets to keep the pets. However, virtually all couples agree that they want what is best for their children. Often joint custody is the answer that makes the most sense.
What is Joint Custody?
Although the specifics vary somewhat among the 50 US states, joint custody is a court order where custody of a couple's minor children is awarded to both parents equally. The courts generally make no distinction as to whether the couple was married, lived together or never shared a home. Sometimes called shared custody, joint custody can take several different forms.
- Joint Physical Custody - Where the lodging and care of a child is shared between the two parents. A child lives part-time with one parent and part-time with the other. Usually, the court will spell out the details of this arrangement in the court order, such as the child spends every other week at one parent's house and every other week at the other one's house. Variations on this include spending summers with one parent and the school year with the other and spending weekdays with one parent and weekends with the other.
- Joint Legal Custody - Where both parents have the right to make legal decisions for their children, such as those about medical issues, schooling and religion. In all but the most extreme emergencies, the court expects both parents to participate in such decisions.
A court can award both parents joint legal custody, but not joint physical custody. That means that the child or children live with one parent, but both are able to participate in decisions concerning the child's welfare. Rarely, if ever, is joint physical custody awarded without joint legal custody.