Shared Custody

Shared custody also known as joint custody, is a legal arrangement that allows both parents, typically after a divorce or separation, to share the responsibilities and decision-making authority for their child or children. This arrangement aims to ensure that both parents maintain active and meaningful involvement in their children’s lives, even if they are no longer in a romantic relationship. Shared custody can take various forms and can be tailored to the specific needs and circumstances of the parents and children involved.

Legal Definition of Shared Custody:

Shared custody, or joint custody, is a legal arrangement in which both parents have a significant role in the upbringing and care of their child or children following a divorce or separation. This arrangement recognizes that both parents have the right to be actively involved in their children’s lives and share in the responsibilities of parenting.

Types of Shared Custody:

Shared custody can take several forms, depending on the specific needs and circumstances of the parents and children involved:

Joint Physical Custody: In joint physical custody, the child resides with both parents, often on a schedule that ensures significant time with each parent. This arrangement allows the child to maintain a stable and consistent relationship with both parents.

Joint Legal Custody: Joint legal custody involves both parents sharing the authority to make important decisions regarding the child’s upbringing, including matters related to education, healthcare, religion, and extracurricular activities. Physical custody may be primarily with one parent, but both have a say in major decisions.

Combination of Joint Legal and Physical Custody: Many shared custody arrangements combine joint legal and physical custody to provide both parents with significant involvement in their child’s life, including decision-making and physical care.

Factors Considered in Determining Shared Custody Arrangements:

When determining shared custody arrangements, courts typically consider several factors to ensure that the arrangement is in the best interests of the child:

Child’s Age and Developmental Needs: The child’s age, maturity, and specific developmental needs are important considerations. Younger children may require more frequent transitions between parents, while older children may have their own preferences considered.

Parents’ Ability to Cooperate: Courts assess the parents’ ability to communicate, cooperate, and make joint decisions regarding the child’s welfare. A history of conflict or domestic violence may affect the feasibility of shared custody.

Stability and Continuity: Maintaining a stable environment and continuity in the child’s life is crucial. Courts consider the child’s school, community, and established routines when crafting custody arrangements.

Parenting Skills and Availability: The ability of each parent to meet the child’s physical, emotional, and developmental needs is evaluated. Factors such as work schedules, living arrangements, and involvement in the child’s life are considered.

Child’s Relationship with Each Parent: The existing relationship between the child and each parent is a significant factor. Courts aim to preserve and nurture these relationships to the extent possible.

Geographic Proximity: The proximity of the parents’ residences can impact the feasibility of shared physical custody. Courts may consider the practicality of shared custody when parents live in different locations.

Child’s Preferences: Depending on the child’s age and maturity, their preferences may be taken into account, although the weight given to these preferences varies by jurisdiction.

Any History of Abuse or Neglect: If there is a history of abuse or neglect by one parent, the court may limit or restrict that parent’s involvement in the child’s life to ensure the child’s safety and well-being.

Benefits of Shared Custody:

Shared custody arrangements offer several benefits for children and parents:

Maintaining Relationships: Children are able to maintain strong relationships with both parents, which can be emotionally beneficial.

Shared Responsibilities: Both parents share the responsibilities of parenting, including financial support, decision-making, and caregiving.

Emotional Support: Children have access to emotional support from both parents, reducing the sense of loss often associated with divorce or separation.

Reducing Conflict: Shared custody arrangements can reduce conflict between parents by providing a structured framework for parenting responsibilities.

Encouraging Cooperation: Parents are encouraged to cooperate and make decisions in the best interests of the child, promoting a more amicable co-parenting relationship.

Challenges of Shared Custody:

Shared custody arrangements also present challenges, which may include:

Logistics: Coordinating schedules and transitions between parents can be logistically challenging and require effective communication.

Potential Conflict: Parents may still experience conflict, especially if they have unresolved issues in their relationship.

Child’s Adjustment: Some children may find the back-and-forth between parents and different living arrangements challenging to adjust to.

Distance: When parents live far apart, shared physical custody can be more complex to implement.

Unequal Involvement: In some cases, shared custody may result in one parent bearing a disproportionate share of responsibilities.

The Best Interests of the Child Standard:

The best interests of the child standard is a fundamental principle in family law that guides custody determinations, including shared custody arrangements. This standard places the child’s well-being and welfare as the primary consideration when making custody decisions. Courts and legal authorities aim to craft custody arrangements that promote the child’s physical, emotional, and psychological well-being, while also taking into account the child’s safety and developmental needs.


Shared custody, or joint custody, is a legal arrangement that allows both parents to share in the responsibilities and decision-making authority for their child following a divorce or separation. The specific terms of shared custody can vary based on the child’s age, developmental needs, and the parents’ circumstances.

The goal of shared custody is to provide a stable and nurturing environment for the child while ensuring that both parents maintain meaningful and active roles in their child’s life. Ultimately, custody determinations are made based on the best interests of the child, with the child’s welfare as the primary consideration. Effective communication, cooperation, and a focus on the child’s well-being are key to successful shared custody arrangements.

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For more family law terms visit our glossary page.

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