Definition of Joint Custody

Joint custody is a child custody arrangement which can include joint legal custody, where the parents share decision making responsibility for the child, and joint physical custody, where the parents share actual physical custody of the child. Spouses may have joint legal custody, joint physical custody or joint physical and legal custody.

If parents have been given joint physical custody the child will live with both parents according to a schedule. Parents will first have the option of creating a schedule that works for both of them, but if they cannot agree, the court will intervene and create a schedule. A common schedule includes the child alternating between homes on weekends or at specified times of the week.

Joint legal custody differs from joint physical custody. Joint legal custody allows both parents to retain decision making control over the child and major decisions regarding the child. For instance, decisions which may have to be made with the other parent can include medical decisions, schooling decisions, and religious decisions.

Joint legal and physical custody may not work for parents who have a highly contentious relationship. It also can be tough for kids to be shuttled back and forth too often between homes. Experts argue, however, that having both parents highly involved in their kid’s lives can be beneficial for most children. Before a couple divorces they generally have the opportunity to develop a parenting plan, but it is a good idea to consult with a lawyer prior to finalization of the plan.

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