When spouses divorce, they may have different goals and needs for themselves as they transition from a broken marriage to their individual lives. However, if those divorcing spouses are parents of a minor child (or children), custody is often a significant issue. The goal must shift to providing a positive adjustment for the child.

This article discusses some of the advantages and disadvantages of shared child custody that parents should consider before deciding which arrangement is best for them and their families. 

What Types of Child Custody Can Parents Have? 

Each parent may be afforded two types of custody of their child: legal custody and physical custody.

  • “Legal custody” gives each parent the right and responsibility to make material decisions relating to the health, education, and welfare of their child.
  • “Physical custody” affords each parent the right to have significant periods of physical care and control of the child (the child gets to live with you).

Upon divorce, the parents can agree on the type of custody arrangement they want to have for their child. “Shared custody” (also called “joint custody”) is one option.

What Is Shared Custody?

Shared custody” simply means that both parents have a right to custody of the child. Unless one parent feels that the other is an “unfit” parent due to issues of abuse or neglect, divorcing couples tend to agree to share legal custody – that both parents will continue to have the right to make decisions on behalf of the child after the divorce. The more common issue is the type of physical custody arrangement they want to have. 

California law provides that the court will presume that joint custody is in the best interest of the child (unless proven or agreed to otherwise). This does not necessarily mean that the parents have to share an “equal” amount of time with the child (a “50/50” split); it simply means that both parents are entitled to “frequent and continuing contact” with the child. 

Shared Custody: What Are the Pros?

In California, as in most states, divorcing parents must decide whether they want to adopt a shared custody arrangement.  

Below, we discuss some of the potential advantages of shared custody.

Continuing Contact With Both Parents

In a shared custody arrangement, the child will have access to both parents. This offers each parent an opportunity to nurture and develop their relationship with the child, independent of their relationship with the other parent. 

Ultimately, this is shown to be the most important goal for a child’s healthy post-divorce adjustment and development.

Division of Parental Responsibilities

A shared custody arrangement creates a fairer division of responsibilities to provide for the child financially and socially. Now, both parents are responsible for the daily routine of getting to school, attending extra-curricular activities, doing homework, addressing medical care issues, discipline, and all the other variables that make for a parent-child relationship.    

Less Distinction of Who Is the “Primary” Parent

When physical custody is equal, it reduces the child’s delineation between a “real” parent and the “other” parent. The child is relieved of the natural feelings of guilt for “abandoning” the non-custodial parent. From the child’s perspective, neither parent is reduced to a secondary parenting role.

Both Parents Are on Equal Footing

Should either parent seek to modify the custody arrangement, courts generally favor the status quo in terms of who has been the child’s primary caretaker. The opportunity to provide care and perhaps modify custody in the future is now on an even playing field. 

Shared Custody: What Are the Cons?

Below, we discuss some of the potential disadvantages of shared custody arrangements.

Potential Instability for the Child

Every family of divorce understands the struggle of having to “move back and forth” for custody time with each parent. How many backpacks, uniforms, and homework assignments have been “left at my other house”? The instability of transitioning every other week/month, etc., can be highly stressful for the child and the parents.   

Continued Marital Tension 

Sharing custody may extend many of the marital dynamics from which the parents just struggled to remove themselves. Particularly if one of the causes of the divorce was the inability of the parents to make unified decisions on behalf of the child, sharing custody might only continue, or even exacerbate, that toxic dynamic. This often leads to parental alienation, which is to be avoided.

Geographic Restrictions

Sharing custody restricts either parent’s ability to relocate to somewhere that interferes with the respective time-sharing plan. Some parents can overcome these hurdles, but constant and distant travel can become expensive for the parents and taxing on the child.

What Are the Alternatives to Shared Custody?

Whether shared custody is applied as an equal (“50/50”) split or some lesser distribution of time-sharing, there are not many alternatives that seem to promote the best interest of the child.

One alternative is to deny one parent the right to physical custody (or at least to afford minimal visitation).

Another alternative in the other direction is for the parents to share physical custody by letting the child continue to reside in the marital home and having the parents move back and forth for their respective time-sharing periods. This is called “bird nesting,”  which presents its own advantages and disadvantages to consider. 

Contact Our Family Law Firm in San Diego, CA

Contact our experienced San Diego family law lawyers at San Diego Divorce Lawyers, APC, today for legal assistance. Contact our San Diego office at (619) 866-3756 to schedule a free consultation.

San Diego Divorce Lawyers, APC
2851 Camino del Rio S #430
San Diego, CA 92108