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Shared Parental Responsibility and Visitation

Shared Parental Responsibility and Visitation

In a divorce proceeding, parents may consider sharing their parental responsibilities by entering into a shared or joint custody agreement. Shared custody is defined as an agreement by which the parents make arrangements to share the physical custody and control of the child as well as the legal, medical, financial, educational, emotional, and social responsibilities. Although it is possible to share the physical custody of a child, actual shared physical custody is rare.

Best Interests of the Child

As in any custody decision, shared custody may be awarded, instead of sole custody, when there is evidence that shared custody is in the best interests of the child. When considering the best interests of the child, a court will examine how well the parties work together as parents and whether they can put aside their personal differences in order to advance the best interests of their children. Some factors that a court might consider include: whether the parties can support each other in their parental roles; whether they can provide comfort and support to their children without letting anger and animosity from the divorce infect their reactions and responses; whether and the extent to which there is any conflict between the parties; whether the parties have effective methods of conflict resolution; whether the parties or the children have mental and emotional health issues and the ability to deal with those issues constructively; whether the parties use the children as pawns or as spies against the other, and; whether the parties can be flexible in accommodating each other’s needs and the needs of their child.

Working Out the Differences

The key to working out a shared or joint custody arrangement is flexibility and a sincere desire to advance the best interests of the child. If those elements are not present, a joint custody arrangement will not work well and may cause harm to the child and the parents. When the shared custody arrangements do not work, parties may choose to dissolve their agreement and agree to allow one party to have sole custody with liberal visitation to the noncustodial parent. If the parties cannot agree, they may file a petition to modify the custody arrangement. If the parties want to try to resolve their differences, but do not want to pursue litigation, they may seek help from a mediator. Many states require a provision that all issues dealing with child custody or visitation have to be submitted to a mediator before they can be submitted to the court. Regardless of which method is chosen, the resolution must be reduced to writing and made a part of the divorce file in compliance with the relevant state laws.

Copyright 2012 LexisNexis, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc.