Joint Physical Custody Vs. Joint Legal Custody

joint physical custodyBy Julie Garrison

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For decades, family law courts have been granting joint legal custody to both parents, and this is only fair.

If both parties in a divorce are reasonably responsible and adjusted, the children will fare much better having both parents involved in their lives.

Joint custody, though, doesn’t have to mean equal amounts of physical custody. (Read related article: “5 Major Benefits Of Joint Physical Custody.”)

In the old days of the 1970s and 1980s, one parent was generally allowed full custody, with “reasonable” visitation to the other parent.

The custodial parent never had to provide the other with a child’s medical records, report cards or any other information that parents should theoretically be privy to.

Joint legal custody has brought the legal custody issue out of the Dark Ages. These days especially, with both parents working full time while they were married, chances are that either of them can handle the responsibilities of parenting their children because they’ve been co-parenting all along.

Mom or Dad can go to a parent-teacher conference, take a child to the doctor, fix dinner or coach Little League. As long as there is a minimal amount of conflict between a divorced mom and divorced dad, joint physical custody is both meaningful and healthy for a child.


Sharing Physical Custody

But while joint legal custody usually is the most viable solution, equal joint physical custody may not be. One parent may live in another state or be overseas with the military. A parent working in a high-powered career may not be home enough to share joint physical custody equally.

When a parent lives out of state, he/she can have his children during the summer and at the Winter and Spring school breaks, while the other parent has the child during the school year.

If a divorcing couple is cooperative during the process of custody mediation, they can usually work out arrangements for sharing physical custody that are beneficial to both sides.

These, of course, are subject to change as the child gets older and is more involved with things like cheerleader camp and other activities during the summer that the child desires to participate in. This is when a history of cooperation between divorced parents serves them well.


Mediating Physical Custody Issues

It is much more beneficial to both parents and their child if they mediate their custody issues and arrangements. Why let two attorneys and a judge determine what is in their child’s best interest?

It’s much better if the two of them can handle it themselves and have it put in order form by the mediator. There are, however, many child custody arrangements that cannot be worked out between parents and a mediator. In these instances, it is necessary to work through the legal system.


What Works

Let’s say that dad and mom live in close proximity to each other and share physical custody. This can work – even if one parent has the child one day and one parent has the child the next day and so on.

This arrangement, though fraught with pitfalls, is not impossible. These day-on-day-off arrangements work if they remain reasonably consistent.

Of course, people get sick or have to work late or perhaps want to get out of town for a long weekend. Provided that the other parent is flexible, every-other-day physical custody is a workable solution.


What Doesn’t Work

For the divorced couple whose parenting arrangement is acrimonious, the every-other-day-arrangement is a really bad idea.

There are just too many opportunities for communication breakdowns resulting in mix-ups, fault-finding and an escalation of discord between parents.

The divorced couple with this type of relationship should share custody in blocks of time. Otherwise the children are constantly being drawn into the fray, and for a child, this can cause lifelong emotional damage.


The Bottom Line

There will always be parents with rancorous post-divorce relationships and parents who wrongly use joint physical custody to lower child support payments.

But, those parents who can set aside their differences for the sake of their children are choosing the better part and are willing to have less or more time with their children, depending upon what’s happening in their lives and the lives of their children.

Parents who are successful in implementing joint physical custody are willing to run home and get their child’s soccer cleats or antibiotic that was inadvertently left behind when the child was driven back to the other parent’s house.

They work it out and maintain a “united front” in discipline issues and are able to separate their divorce from their children’s emotional security.

Parents who put cooperation at the forefront of their post-divorce relationship can have a win-win situation by sharing physical custody – even if it is not shared equally.

They realize that just because they are no longer lovers, it doesn’t mean that they can’t successfully co-parent their children.

Read related article: “5 Major Benefits Of Joint Physical Custody


Julie Garrison has been writing articles and short stories for the past 10 years and has appeared in several magazines and e-zines.

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