Recently on our legal forum a user asked, “My spouse and I are getting divorced. We both want the child custodial arrangement which is best for our three children, but we disagree on what that child custodial arrangement should be. I think they should live with me full time and not be transported back and forth every few days. He wants their time split in half. What are your thoughts?”
Historically, family courts favored mothers when it came to the child custodial arrangement. With increased focus on the important role of fathers and their increased legal resources to ensure their custody rights are protected, however, in the last twenty years or so courts have increasingly awarded joint custody to both parents.
What is joint custody?
Joint physical and legal custody allows both parents to retain both legal decision making authority regarding the healthcare, education, and legal issues of their children and joint physical custody of their children, where the children spend a significant amount of time with each parent.
Under this arrangement, either the parents or the courts (if the parents cannot agree) will create a custody schedule. The schedule can vary but may include allowing the children to spend alternating weeks, weekends, holidays, and/or weekdays with either parent.
Best child custodial arrangement after divorce
Studies suggest the healthiest living arrangement for children is to grow up with married parents who are able to have a conflict free home. Obviously, this is not an option for everyone.
You asked about the best type of custodial arrangement following divorce. Without more information about your situation it’s tough to say for sure, but if you are considering joint legal and physical custody it’s important to understand the downsides of this arrangement.
Specifically, the stress that children can feel as they are shuttled back and forth between two homes. Additionally, joint custody can also be very difficult for parents who are not able to cooperate with each other over.
Finally, the issue of maintaining two homes which can support children should also be considered. If you and your spouse are going to split time with the children the children will need a space in both homes which is comfortable and meets their physical needs, potentially increasing the costs for both parents to maintain a home.
Benefits of joint custody
Despite the potential drawbacks of joint custody, however, it has become the prevailing child custodial arrangement for a reason. Namely, research indicates that children benefit from the involvement of both parents in their lives.
In fact, studies indicate that if children cannot remain in intact families then generally the next healthiest child custodial arrangement is reached by allowing children to spend significant time with each parent.
There are a variety of reasons for this, but experts suggest it’s primarily because a joint child custodial arrangement can increase the social support, financial support, and emotional support of a child.
What about sole custody?
Now the child custodial arrangement you suggested where children live with one parent is called sole custody. While sole custody can be simpler, it may allow for a child to reside in one location for the majority of the time, and it may be the only option for parents who cannot negotiate a schedule or if one parent is considered unfit, it can eliminate the ability of both parents to be actively engaged in their children’s lives- a loss that studies indicate can be detrimental to a child.
Courts encourage parents to work together to determine what child custodial arrangement will work best for their family. If you have older kids it might also be beneficial to have them engaged in the conversation as well.
If you and your spouse are not able to work together, however, the courts will be required to step in. While this might resolve the issue, it’s likely you and your spouse could end up with a child custodial plan which might make neither of you happy.
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