There’s no question that having shared physical custody of your minor children can create some difficulties. The reality, though, is that we’re seeing shared physical custody far more often than we used to. It seems like many dads are, for better or for worse, much more interested in actively being involved in the parenting of their children than they used to be. And on top of that, courts are more sympathetic to the pleas of dads and more inclined to believe them capable of taking on an equal share of the childrearing responsibilities.
What does shared custody mean? I don’t like the sound of it.
Shared custody is any kind of custodial relationship where the non-custodial parent (the parent who has less time) has at least 90 full days with the child(ren) in a given year. The split of mom time versus dad time can be achieved in any number of ways. If dad (as the noncustodial parent) has only 90 days a year, then mom has 275. Shared custody can also mean a total 50/50 custody arrangement, where each party has 182.5 days a year. A very, very wide range of custodial arrangements can qualify as shared custody, and the only distinction between a dad who gets 90 days and a dad who gets a full half of the year with the child(ren) is the amount of spousal support he pays.
Once you get into shared custody territory, there is a change in the level of child support. The level of child support in a shared custody arrangement depends on the amount of time each party spends with the child, so a dad who spends 90 days with the child will pay more in child support than a dad who spends 182.5 days each year with the child. The reasoning? If he’s with the child more, he is responsible for more meals and other expenses associated with taking care of a child.
What are the alternatives to shared custody?
There’s primary physical custody, which is a custodial arrangement in which the non-custodial parent has less than 90 days with the child(ren) a year. There’s also split custody, which happens when one parent takes primary physical custody of one child, and the other parent takes primary physical custody of another.
There are a number of pretty significant downsides to shared physical custody, which most of my clients are very quick to point out. It’s hard to stomach a custodial arrangement that doesn’t allow you to have primary physical custody. After all, a child needs an involved mother, right? Of course!
Normally in a shared custody situation, the child(ren) split time with the parents according to a pre-determined, agreed upon schedule. Sometimes, that means spending a week with mom and then a week with dad, but that can be incredibly difficult, especially during the school year. Custody arrangements are very flexible things, and we always encourage our clients to work together to come up with an agreement that works well for both them and their children. Still, there are disadvantages. Specifically,
1. Your child’s routine is disrupted.
It’s hard for a child to lose that sense of “home.” Normally, with children who have one parent with primary physical custody, they maintain a sense that a certain parent’s home is their home, too. Though they may visit the other parent, they don’t live there the same way. Losing that sense can be difficult and traumatic for a child. It’s difficult to move a child from house to house regularly. Even if you try to keep the child’s daily activities as consistent as possible, it’s a lot of upheaval.
2. If you don’t live close to your child’s father, it can be difficult.
After your divorce, the last thing you want to do is live next door to your child’s father. (And, of course, I’m not suggesting that you should.) However, if you don’t, transporting the child back and forth consistently for the foreseeable future can be a pretty substantial burden. Even if you both live in Hampton Roads, you may have to battle pretty crazy traffic on a regular basis.
If the two of you live even further away, you could be facing long periods of time without your child(ren). In cases like these, we often see the child spend the school year with one parent, and the entire summer (and sometimes all the school holidays) with the other parent.
3. Your could could be stuck between two feuding parents.
If the two of you can’t get along, this arrangement will be even more difficult for both you and your child(ren). Sharing custody means that you and your child’s father will have frequent communication about the children—and, sometimes, you’ll even have to see each other. It can be difficult to move on when your ex is always right there, and the anger and hostility you feel can affect the child(ren) if it’s not handled well.
Before you reach an agreement about the care and custody of your children, it’s a good idea to talk to a licensed Virginia custody attorney about what your other choices and alternatives may be.