Co-parenting and Sharing Child Custody
By Armin Brott
Q: My wife and I will soon be divorced, and we both want to spend a lot of time with our children. We’re trying to work out a custody agreement that both of us think is fair. A couple we know that got divorced are co-parenting their children. But other people have told us that sharing custody causes problems for everyone. Who’s right?
A: The best way to maintain a strong relationship with your children is to spend as much time with them as you possibly can. Joint physical custody provides the best guarantee of regular contact with your kids. In most states, joint physical custody is defined simply as “frequent and continuing contact,” which covers everything from equally splitting expenses, decision-making, and time with the kids to arrangements that are basically indistinguishable from sole mother custody with occasional visitation by the father.
So pursue as much physical custody as you can reasonably manage. This is probably going to be somewhere between 30 and 50 percent. Unless there are extenuating circumstances, don’t shoot for more than 50 percent: your children need their mother just as much as they need you and your ex needs them just as much as you do. Why go for co-parenting? Simply put, because it’s the best thing for everyone.
Parents like it. Former couples who share physical custody of their children are happier with their custody arrangements than those who don’t. They fight less and are generally more satisfied with the overall outcome of their break-up.
Fathers like it too. Co-parenting dads are “more likely than nonresidential fathers to share in decision making about their children and to be satisfied with the legal and physical custody arrangements,” says researcher Margaret Little.
Judges like it. Parents who co-parent are less likely to go back to court to settle their disputes.
Kids feel more secure. Seeing their parents break up can make children feel frightened and out of control and, perhaps, unloved. And if one parent disappears–or almost disappears–these feelings get worse.
Everyone wins. “At its best joint custody presents the possibility that each family member can ‘win’ in post divorce life rather than insisting that a custody decision identify ‘winners and losers,'” writes social policy expert Ross Thompson. “Mothers and fathers each win a significant role in the lives of their offspring and children win as a consequence.”
It increases father-child contact. Fathers who share physical custody of their children have far better visitation records and keep in much closer contact with their children than dads who don’t have as much time with their kids.
It nearly eliminates child-support default. The US Census Bureau found that over 90 percent of men with joint physical custody pay their entire child support obligation on time. Compliance goes up even further when adjusted for unemployment, underemployment, disability, or other legitimate inability to pay.
It promotes flexibility. In the early stages of co-parenting, some kids may find it a little confusing. But it usually doesn’t take them long to get used to the idea. Co-parented children quickly learn to cope with and accept the different ways their parents do things.
A great dad himself, Armin speaks not only as a specialist in parenting, but as a parent himself. He has written several books including The Expectant Father and Fathering Your Toddler.