Divorce and Co-Parenting: A Joint Legal Custody Guide

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It is seldom an easy decision to get a divorce or leave a long term relationship. When there are children involved, the stress is even greater.

All parents want what is best for their child even when the family unit is no longer able to stay intact. Big conflicts arise, however, when the parents argue over custody and who is going to make the decisions for the child.

Being able to work together towards joint legal custody gives both the child and the parents a platform where everyone can feel safe and heard.

Here is some of the most important information you need to know about having joint custody of a child.

What is Joint Custody?

There are different levels of joint custody. To be able to choose the best option for your family, you will need to understand the differences. Obviously, if there are abuse or safety issues involved, the discussion of joint custody should not be entertained. In most cases, however, it can be a positive step forward in a new direction.

Joint Physical Custody

Physical custody is all about where the child lives. When there is joint physical custody, the child splits their time living with both parents. Now, this does not necessarily mean an even 50/50 of days.

The amount of time at each parent’s home is determined by things like where is the school that the child attends, how far apart do the two parents live from each other, what other obligations does each parent have. There are also questions regarding the split of property during a divorce.

If the parents are close, it is possible that the child lives one month at one home and the next month with the other parent. If this arrangement does not fit, then the time can be divided by months at a time, only on breaks from school, and during holiday times.

The best decision for child custody is what is best for the child. Shuffling them back and forth between homes can be stressful and confusing. The goal is for the child to be happy and well-adjusted.

Joint Legal Custody

Having joint legal custody is separate from physical custody. One parent can have sole physical custody and the parents can still have joint legal custody.

This simply means both parents have equal-standing legal rights in the upbringing of the child. This includes religious practices, schools, activities, etc. Each parent has a say in these types of decisions.

This can be more difficult than physical custody at times and takes mutual respect and open communication from both sides. There will also be compromises needed to make sure each parent plays an equal part.

Legal custody also brings financial responsibility. If you are struggling with child support during these times, there are resources that can help.

The Child’s Best Interests

When two people decide to end a relationship, it is common for there to be hurt feelings and resentments. Along with the hurt comes the desire for revenge or to get even with the person who hurt you. Unfortunately, children are often used for this purpose.

Deciding on the physical and legal custody of the child requires both parents to be mature and have only the best interests of the child in mind. There is no one solution that fits every situation. When parents are unable to work together on the decisions regarding custody, then a family therapist or attorney may need to be brought in to help.

It not only benefits the child to have joint custody, but it also helps the adults. One parent doesn’t have the stress of the entire responsibility of the child. It also opens up the child to positive influence from both sides. Having the child being involved equally with each parent will also encourage them to be civil and respectful.

How To Co-Parent Effectively

Dual parenting is challenging when things are good and everyone lives under the same roof. Having to co-parent after a divorce is a whole new level. However, it is possible to rise to the challenge and make a better life for the child.

Don’t Lean On the Child for Support

Children should never have to deal with grown-up problems. Yes, going through a divorce is painful and you may be angry. Do not let the negative feelings you still have about your spouse spill out in front of the child.

You can vent to other family members, friends, or a therapist, but the child should only see positive communication between the two parents. This is true even if the child is older and offers help or advice. Let the child be the child.

Don’t Make the Child Pick Sides

Regardless of how angry you are at your ex, it is completely unfair to drag the child into your disputes. The child loves each parent equally.

Putting the child in the middle will backfire in the long run. Eventually, they will see the manipulation and begin to resent one or both of the parents. Children are smart. If one parent is consistently unfair or doesn’t live up to agreements, they will figure that out on their own.

Have Regular Times To Communicate

Everyone’s lives are busy. It is not reasonable to expect your ex to be available for a conversation just because you are.

You should have regularly scheduled times to communicate about issues involving the child. The time and frequency can be worked out together, but it should be on a regular basis so nothing important slips through the cracks.

It is also important to never let the child be a part of this discussion. Any decisions that are made should be presented as a united front and they do not need to see any further negativity.

Working Together Is Possible

No one ever sets out to create a family only to have it split apart. However if the time comes that the parents need to go their separate ways, the children still need to be a priority.

Having joint legal custody is a great start to making sure both parents have an equal say in the raising of the child and the child feels loved and safe on both sides.

For more information on how we can help you through this very difficult time, please reach out.

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