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.

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.

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.

Divorce is never easy, but we can help. Learn More

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.

Divorce is never easy, but we can help. Learn More
Child Custody Options in Iowa


Related articles

Divorce & Joint Custody Laws in Kentucky

Joint custody is not defined in Kentucky law. However, as in all states, Kentucky's Revised Statutes provide the standard by which all custody arrangements are to be decided -- including joint custody -- and that is "in the best interests of the child." Therefore, if you can demonstrate to the court that sharing custody with your ex-spouse is in your child's best interests, the court will likely honor your request and adopt joint custody as the official custody arrangement in your final divorce decree.

Sole Custody Vs. Joint Legal Custody

When you’re going through a divorce, it might seem like everyone has some advice to give. The problem with unequivocally believing whatever they say is that they might not have a firm handle on the legal meaning of various divorce terms. If you have children, it can benefit you to fully understand all the terms involved in custody so you know what you're requesting and how it will affect you and your children.

Ohio's Temporary Child Custody Laws

Ohio courts typically decide child custody issues, called parental rights and responsibilities, as part of the Ohio divorce process. Final custody arrangements are often not ordered until the court issues the final divorce decree. If you and your spouse cannot agree on a mutually satisfactory custody arrangement to use until the court issues its decree, either of you may ask the court for a temporary custody order.

Get Divorced Online

Related articles

How to Get Sole Custody of a Child in Virginia

The best interests of the child is always the paramount factor used in determining custody issues; having both parents ...

What Does Full Custody Mean?

The definition of full custody depends to some extent on where you live and your state's legal jargon. It may mean that ...

Who Qualifies for Joint Custody of a Child?

When they realize divorce is imminent, many parents hope to have joint custody of the children. The term "joint ...

What Does Sole Custody Mean in Tennessee?

Divorce is never easy, especially when children are involved. Whether you're negotiating custody with your soon-to-be ...

Browse by category
Ready to Begin? GET STARTED