What is Joint Custody?

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  • Written By: Hillary Flynn
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 17 December 2019
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Custody of the children is perhaps the most critical decision for all parties to make when a couple divorces. In each case, determining factors such as lifestyle, employment, and each parent's ability to care for a child and best maintain the positive aspects of the environment the child has become accustomed to are taken into consideration before deciding which parent should be given custody. When it is clear that both parents are equally suitable caregivers, one common solution is to award both parents with joint custody.

Joint custody refers to any arrangement that gives both parents legal responsibility in decision making that affects the child. This does not necessarily mean that a child spends equal time between two homes. Joint custody may be used to identify two different situations: joint legal custody and joint physical custody. Several factors differentiate these two terms.

Joint physical custody involves a court-ordered schedule of caretaking that allows a child to spend a predetermined amount of time in each home, meaning a minor child will have two primary residences. When joint physical custody is granted, there is no "visitation" schedule because the children live between the two homes and all responsibilities of childcare are shared. This designation is only suitable for families in which the divorcing parents are on amicable terms and will be able to manage the arrangement without conflict.


Joint legal custody is a court order that ensures each parent has an equal right in making decisions regarding routine medical issues, education, and any other area that affects the welfare of the child. This type of joint custody generally allows one parent to be the "custodial" parent. That means the children live with one parent, but the other parent is granted visitation privileges and must be consulted on all legal decisions regarding the child. This is the ideal situation for families who struggle with a bit more conflict because it allows both parents to retain legal control, but one parent is able to take the lead on smaller, everyday decisions that affect the child without subjecting the child to unnecessary conflict.

Joint custody is decided upon in a family court, usually when a couple is going through a divorce. The goal is to create the best possible environment for the child while maintaining the legal rights of each parent. Though it is almost always tricky to determine which situation will suit each child, family court judges look at all aspects of a child's life and each parent's ability to provide the most stable environment possible.


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Post 7

Please someone help me. I am desperate. My son's girlfriend of three years has come forward and reported her stepfather had been sexually abusing her, as well as committing physical and mental abuse. For the past three years, my husband and I have done everything for her. She needed braces and they made her get a job to pay for them herself at 14. We picked her up for her job and brought her home while her mother did nothing.

She paid for her own driver's training classes, which we also took her to and taught her to drive. They again did nothing. She was allowed to stay with us probably 300 plus days a year for three years. They

only wanted her home to do their chores or watch her half sister, and then she could leave again.

We bought her clothes, gave her lunch money for school -- her mom wouldn't give her lunch money, but they could buy cigarettes for themselves. It would take me too long to name all the things they did to her.

Anyway, they removed her from her home and got an emergency order to place her with us and the case worker was so confident she would be able to stay with us. However, when she petitioned the judge, the mother and her attorney accused us of being alcoholics and buying alcohol for the kids and I don't even know what else. It was all untrue. My husband and I don't drink or smoke or do anything wrong, but the judge just went off his word and said she has to be placed a juvenile facility that is three hours away. Also, her biological father has joint custody and was not notified of any of this until after the fact. He lives in another state and has had no contact with her really, but pays support. However, he wants to give his consent to place her with us as he wants her to be happy and she wants to finish school here and is enrolled in college in January.

Should he have been notified and can he somehow reverse this ward of the state thing? We are all devastated. She is 17. They are getting her from us tomorrow. Please someone, help. She won't be able to take it. We are all she has. Why is this happening to her? We love her like our own.

Post 6

Someone help if you have been in a situation like this please. I went to iowa for the holidays. due to no custody established I went to homeless shelter, and pretty much lost my four year old. The father has blocked and changed phone numbers, and when she asks to talk to me he tells her no.

I have an attorney, and he is filing a jurisdiction injunction to bring her back to her residence. Now I found out dhs made her and dad a ward of the state of iowa. Help. Does anyone know anything about this stuff. --losing my mind

Post 5

I grew up in a situation where my parents divorced when I was very young and they had joint custody of me. My father hardly ever exercised his rights to visit me so there was never really any back and forth issue or arguments.

My best friend throughout my childhood was in a similar situation where her parents divorced when she was very young, and they wanted joint custody.

She ended up having to go between her mother and fathers home every two weeks. I watched her be torn from one home to another every couple of weeks and it was very hard for her. She constantly had to pack up and move from home to home.

I would not want to put my child through that. I know as a parent and someone who grew up in a divorced home how important it is to give your children stability.

I don’t like the fact that my son has to grow up visiting his dad on the weekends and every other Wednesday but I can imagine it is better than making him jump back and forth between homes for weeks at a time.

Post 4

Latte31 - I know what you mean. My cousin had joint custody of his son and the mother wanted to move to a different state, but the judge did not allow her. In fact she had to remain living in the same county that they both lived in.

I really feel for the children in joint custody cases in which the parents do not get along. It really brings so much more grief to the children. It makes things difficult when the child is kept in another country.

The case of David Goldman and his son Sean who was kept in Brazil against his father’s wishes was terrible. To make matters worse, the mother died in Brazil leaving the

child with the maternal grandparents and stepfather.

After about six years of fighting the child was finally returned to his father and they now live in New Jersey.

While this is more of a kidnapping case it can still happen in a joint custody arrangement in which the parent leaves the country with the child.

Post 3

Suntan12 - While I agree that both parents should have joint custody of the child there can be problems with that arrangement as well.

I learned of a joint custody case in which the mother and father shared equally physical custody.

The problem occurred with the father who did not follow the joint custody agreement like he was supposed to. For example, if the mother was supposed to pick up the children he would not be home. On several occasions the father would take the kids out of school early on Friday so that the mother was unable to pick them up.

A bitter parent can still manipulate the system in order to hurt the other parent, but the one that really ends up suffering is the child. Joint custody laws are broken all of the time by people like this and it can be a really frustrating situation.

Post 2

Sneakers41 - I agree with you. I also wanted to add that a joint custody agreement lowers the incidents of litigation regarding joint custody child support.

Since both parents share physical custody of the child equally there are no additional financial outlays of support required. This takes the financial fight for child support off the table.

Post 1

I think that a joint custody agreement offers the best situation for the child. Children really need to be raised by both parents because both parents influence the child in different ways.

For example, if a girl experiences little contact with her father as a child when she grows up she may have difficulty in her relationships with men.

These girls may continue to look for love in other places and may develop drug problems or promiscuity issues.

Divorce is never easy but at least regarding child custody cases the child does not have to divorce the parent either. She can live with both parents.

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