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What Is Shared Physical Custody?



Increasingly, family law experts are touting the benefits of shared physical custody. But what is shared physical custody? It is a type of custody arrangement in which the child lives with each parent for roughly equal amounts of time. It helps children establish deeper connections with both parents even though the family has gone through the devastating experience of divorce. Shared physical custody requires both parents to work together in implementing the childs travel schedule.

What Is Shared Physical Custody and Shared Legal Custody?

Shared physical custody means a child lives with each parent for an equal amount of time. Shared legal custody means that the parents share the legal rights and responsibilities for making major decisions that affect the child.

Shared custody--both legal and physical--is a relatively recent phenomenon. For years, mothers were favored in custody battles. More recently, custody laws have changed so there is no preference toward mothers or fathers. Child custody laws now also favor joint or shared custody over sole custody.

You will want to hire a family law or child custody attorney familiar with the laws in your state to help negotiate and write your shared physical custody agreement, because the legal terminology can differ from state to state. Some state codes do not use the term "shared physical custody" but instead use the term "joint physical custody." Other states distinguish between "shared physical custody" and "shared legal custody." Maines law uses the term "shared parental rights and responsibilities."

Best Practices

The number one rule for shared custody is that both parents must work together to form a highly structured shared parenting plan. The parents must work hard to get along with each other, particularly in front of the children. Courts have dissolved shared parenting plans when there is evidence of acrimony or bitterness in the presence of the child.

Another recommended practice is to have neutral dropping off points for the child. Both parents should agree on the time and place. They must stick to the schedule, and deviations from that schedule should be communicated ahead of time.

Studies have shown that children from divorced parents perform better in school with shared custody arrangements. Parents must work hard to ensure that their conflicts with each other do not filter down to the child or children.

If parents have shared legal custody, they may wish to divide responsibilities for certain aspects of the childs welfare. One parent may be chiefly responsible for the childs medical care, while another parent may take a leading role in the childs extracurricular activities. If one parent has a background in medicine, it makes sense for that parent to take the lead in that area.

Consult Your Attorney

If you want a shared custody plan, consult carefully with your attorney. There can be many ramifications to a shared custody plan, including a deviation from the child support guidelines. In some cases, no child support will be awarded at all. Seeking or agreeing to shared physical custody is important. You need an attorney to help guide you in making the right decision.