The Ultimate Legal Guide to Joint Custody and Child Support

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In the United States, about 40 to 50 percent of marriages end in divorce.

Although most couples intend to spend the rest of their life together, sometimes circumstances force them to get divorced. One of the most difficult things about divorce for couples is dealing with custody of their children. 

If you’re in the process of an amicable divorce and want to know how to navigate the custody process, you came to the right place.

Read on to learn about the basics of joint custody and child support. 

Basic Terminology

After a divorce, parents will have months of court dates, so learning the basic custody legal terminology will help them fight for a fair arrangement. Parents want to do what is best for their children, and this includes a smooth custody transition. 

Before you petition for any custody, you must familiarize yourself with the legal terms.

Child Custody 

In legal terms, child custody refers to the legal right a parent has to care for a child’s welfare and well-being after a divorce or separation. The courts decide who is the more qualified parent to take care of the child. Once custody is awarded, the child will spend the most time with the custodial parent.

Parenting Time

Unlike child custody, parenting time refers to the time the child will spend with the noncustodial parent. The amount of parenting time will be determined by the court.

Sometimes a judge will determine parenting time temporarily while a custody agreement in the works. 

Sole Custody

When a judge orders one parent to be responsible for making all decisions regarding a child’s life and well being, it’s known as sole custody. 

Although many parents may choose to discuss and still make decisions together, the legal responsibility falls on the parent with the sole custody.

Even if both parents don’t agree about a decision, the final decision falls on the parent with legal custody. 

Joint Custody

When a judge awards both parents with the legal responsibility of taking care of the child, it’s known as joint custody. Before a judge can award joint custody to parents, both parties need to agree. 

How Does the Court Determine Which Parent Gets Custody?

When it comes to deciding which parent gets custody, the court follows a series of steps. 

The court first allows both parties to reach an agreement on their own before getting involved. If both parties fail to reach an agreement after court mediation, the court will get involved in making the decision. 

To make the best decision for the child, the courts sometimes ask an expert for their professional advice. An expert will evaluate both parties and report to the judge.

Based on this report, the judge will decide which parent is the best fit to have custody of the child. If the expert considers both parents competent, and they agree, the judge will award joint custody.

Will You Have to Pay Child Support if Awarded Joint Custody?

Although there a lot of factors to consider, parents still have to pay child support. While both parents will share physical custody of the child, it doesn’t mean parents will have no financial obligation. 

When one parent gets awarded primary custody, the other parent will be responsible for providing everything else the child will need, such as clothing, shelter, food, medical care, etc. The difference with shared custody is that both parents will provide all of those necessities on their own. 

Depending on the laws in your state and the judge’s discretion, parents will reach a child support agreement when joint custody is awarded.

What Determines Child Support in a Joint Custody Agreement?

In some states, child support laws dictate that children should maintain the same standard of living at both houses. If one parent makes significantly more money, the court will aim to balance the scales.

To determine child support in a joint custody agreement, some states use an income shares model. The income shares model takes the combined monthly income of both parents and then divides it by the number of children. 

Once the court has a base number, they will determine each parent’s obligation to support the child. However, some states such as Delaware, Hawaii, and Montana take into account each parent’s financial ability to meet the obligation.

Some states use the percentage of income model to determine child support when parents obtain joint custody. Rather than taking the total monthly income, the percentage of income model calculates based on their earnings. 

Equal Parent Income

While there might be extra child support negotiations when one parent makes more money than the other, in some instances, parents have roughly the same income. 

If both parents have similar incomes, some judges waive the need for child support. However, even if the parents agree that they don’t need to receive child support, the courts might decide if this is the right course. 

Most child support agreements are made with the best interests of the child in mind. 

Determining Parenting Time

Parenting time is another thing the courts consider before granting joint custody to parents. Calculating parenting time is also another important factor when determining child support.

Courts decide parenting time by keeping the best interest of the child in mind. Children need to maintain a good relationship with both parents, which is why some parents agree to a 50/50 split. 

A 50/50 split in parenting time should support the child’s physical, mental, moral, and emotional well-being. Many parents seeking joint custody use a parenting time calculator to determine how many nights a year each parent should get.

Are You In the Process of Obtaining Joint Custody?

Now that you know more bout the joint custody and child support process, you’re ready to get the help you need. 

For parents who share similar incomes and want to split 50/50 parenting time, a joint custody agreement is in the child’s best interest.

Obtaining joint custody of your child shouldn’t be an uphill battle. Contact us today for a case review.

We look forward to serving you!