Joint custody and shared custody sound similar and are sometimes used interchangeably, but they do not mean the same thing. Generally, joint custody provides each parent with split time with their child, as well as equal control in decisions over a child’s upbringing. Whereas shared custody solely refers to parenting time being as close to 50/50 as possible.
What Exactly is Joint Custody?
When parents share joint custody of a child, it means they each share the following:
Joint Physical Custody: An arrangement in which both parents share equal rights in terms of time and contact with their children. In other words, the child spends time residing at each parent’s home. For instance, one full week with mom and the next whole week with their father, etc.
Joint Legal Custody: Each parent plays an equal role in making decisions for their child, such as healthcare or education. Therefore, one parent cannot make a significant life decision for a child without the other agreeing. Unless, for some reason, it is not in the child’s best interests, the court awards joint legal custody to parents by default.
Making a joint custody arrangement work requires parents to compromise and cooperate. Joint custody arrangements are typically appropriate when parents live and work in the same area, are amicable, can make decisions together, and the child is school-aged or older.
However, it is possible for parents to share joint legal custody but not joint physical custody or vice versa. When a judge decides on a custody arrangement, they already know the parents cannot work together if the case is contested. Therefore, to avoid further hearings, one parent may be awarded final decision-making authority, or one parent will have authority for some issues and the other parent for other issues.
What Does Shared Custody Mean?
Shared custody refers only to a joint physical custody arrangement. Therefore, when parents have shared custody, it means both parents have time with their child. Shared custody is typically close to equal time, but it does not have to be. Oftentimes, a child will live with one parent the majority of the time (the custodial parent) while the other has visitation rights. It typically depends on the parents’ housing and job situation, as well as the child’s needs, such as the location of their school.
What Is the Alternative to Joint or Shared Custody?
The alternative to joint or shared custody is sole custody. Sole custody can mean sole physical custody, sole legal custody, or both. If a parent has sole physical custody, a child only resides with them. However, the other parent still maintains their parental rights. For example, they often still have visitation rights and child support obligations.
Speak to an Experienced Child Custody Attorney in Spokane