Split custody, also referred to as joint custody or shared custody, is a legal term used to describe a situation in which multiple individuals have legal rights to a child. There are many different types of split custody. For example, the term could be used to refer to shared physical custody, the shared right to make medical decisions for a child or the shared right to make educational decisions for a child. There may also be many different arrangements each party can make when it comes to exactly how custody is shared.
A split custody arrangement most commonly occurs in divorce cases. If both parents want access to a child, custody of that child must be shared. The parents can share custody equally — called joint custody — in which case the child moves back and forth between houses, splitting his time. The parents can also make other arrangements, such as having one parent have primary custody and the other visitation rights to visit on a set schedule.
The two parties in a divorce can create their custody arrangement themselves, or the court can make the decision for them if they cannot agree. A custody arrangement or agreement in the event of a divorce is normally put in writing and approved by the court. The parents are each legally required to comply with the custody agreement. If one party fails to do so, he or she can face court penalties such as contempt of court, or even kidnapping, depending on the situation.
Custody arrangements do not always exist in the context of divorce. If the two parents of a child are not married, the court may also award split custody if both individuals want access to a child. In such situations, the father generally must prove his parental rights if the mother contests them, in order to be entitled to a joint custody arrangement.
While custody arrangements most commonly occur between parents, split custody can also exist in other circumstances. For example, in some cases, a grandparent or other relative may be entitled to split custody of a child. Likewise, if an individual who is not a child is somehow incapacitated and needs a guardian, such as a senile individual or a mentally impaired adult who requires care and a guardian, split custody arrangements can also exist in such situations if multiple parties express an interest in guardianship.