Child custody is a sensitive topic for families facing divorce. After divorce, parents wish to have frequent and consistent in-person communication with their children. While parents cannot choose the custody arrangement based on their personal preferences, the court will provide them sufficient time to spend with their child and the authority to decide on important aspects of their child’s life.
Divorcing parents have numerous options to consider and several distinctions to remember.
Aspects to consider: legal and physical
Before differentiating joint and shared custody, one must understand that the court decides on the arrangement’s physical and legal aspects. Legal custody pertains to the authority of each parent to make long-term decisions regarding the child’s well-being, safety, health and education, among others. Meanwhile, physical custody is the time and duration allowed by the court for each parent to physically spend with their child.
How to differentiate the two?
In joint custody, the parents have an equal say in major decisions involving their child’s life. However, physical custody is not equal. Usually, in this setup, the child primarily lives with one parent while the other has visitation rights. With the court’s guidance, the parents can work out a schedule that best suits their child’s needs.
In shared custody, the child may switch households in a week to spend time with each parent equally or as equally as possible. For example, the child could spend Mondays to Thursdays with one parent and Fridays to Sundays with the other. Neither parent is the primary custody. But like joint custody, both parents have equal legal authority regarding the child’s major life decisions.
The court’s top priority
The parents’ wishes may not be aligned with what is best for the child and their needs. At the end of each proceeding, the court will approve a setup that caters to the child’s best interest.