Joint Custody vs. Shared Custody

By Beverly Bird

At first glance, joint custody and shared custody might seem to be the same thing – and they often are. The custody issue can become confusing, however, because states often use different terms for the same type of custody arrangement. Depending on where you're divorcing, joint custody and shared custody might mean that you and your spouse will cooperate in just one area of parenting responsibility, or both.

At first glance, joint custody and shared custody might seem to be the same thing – and they often are. The custody issue can become confusing, however, because states often use different terms for the same type of custody arrangement. Depending on where you're divorcing, joint custody and shared custody might mean that you and your spouse will cooperate in just one area of parenting responsibility, or both.

Legal Custody

In some states, such as New York, the phrase, "joint custody" refers only to legal custody. If the court orders it in your divorce decree, you and your spouse will continue to make all important decisions together regarding your children, just as you did while married. Other states, such as Pennsylvania, refer to this arrangement as shared legal custody. In both cases, physical custody is addressed separately -- and the terms, "shared" and "joint" mean the same thing. Legal custody does not have any effect on daily dilemmas, such as if your child can watch television before starting his homework. The parent who has physical custody or visitation at the time makes such decisions.

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Physical Custody

When parents face custody issues in divorce, physical custody is usually first and foremost in their minds – as physical custody addresses where the children will live. If the children divide their time pretty much equally between your home and your spouse's home, this is referred to as shared custody or shared physical custody in many states; both Pennsylvania and Illinois use the term "shared." It may also be called joint physical custody. The flip side to this arrangement is when the kids live predominantly with just one parent. If this is you, you'd have primary physical custody in Pennsylvania, or sole physical custody in other states.

Joint Custody

In some states, such as Virginia, the term, "joint custody" refers to both physical and legal custody. If you have joint custody, you and your spouse will each have the children roughly half the time -- and you'll work together to make important decisions. Virginia doesn't use the term "shared" at all.

Getting It Straight

If you don't know exactly what kind of custody to request from the court in your state, consult with a lawyer, or your online legal document service, to make sure you get it right. In states such as Colorado, you wouldn't even ask for custody at all – your choice is between parenting responsibility, which equates to physical custody, or decision-making responsibility, which relates to legal custody. One thing of which you can be reasonably sure, however, is that if you ask for "shared" or "joint" anything, you're requesting equal footing with your spouse.

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Child Custody Options in Iowa

References

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Colorado Joint Child Custody Laws

Colorado is one of the more progressive states when it comes to joint parenting post-divorce. Although many state courts won't order joint custody -- especially when parents are reluctant to try to get along -- Colorado judges order or approve the arrangement approximately 20 percent of the time, according to Marrison Family Law in Colorado Springs. The state assumes that joint custody is in the best interests of the children, unless parents are opposed to it, have an extremely hostile relationship, or one parent is unfit.

Shared vs. Residential Custody

In most states, two kinds of custody apply to all separating families: legal and physical. Legal custody refers only to major decision-making, and physical custody refers to the parent with whom a child lives. A parent with sole physical custody is sometimes referred to as the residential or custodial parent; this is the parent with residential custody. When a child lives a relatively equal amount of time in each parent’s home, this is referred to as shared custody, also often called joint custody.

What Does Sole Custody Mean for the Other Parent?

During the divorce process, courts often establish custody orders. If one parent is awarded sole custody, the other parent's rights and responsibilities are contingent on what type of sole custody she received.

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