For the sake of the children, the goals of divorcing parents should be the same: involvement of both parents in the lives of the children and mitigation of conflict between the parents. These two factors should dominate all others when thinking about custody.
A joint-custody solution gives a psychological boost to the parent who would otherwise be the noncustodial parent. But, even in a sole-custody situation, generous time-sharing (combined with open communication between parents) can create an environment where a noncustodial parent is significantly involved in the children's lives.
Is joint custody right for you? That depends a great deal on the ability of you and your spouse to get along. If you are to share decision-making, you must be able to sit down with your former spouse in a non-combative atmosphere and make decisions together. Shared values and parenting styles make this custody style more viable.
Here's what psychologists have found after long-term studies of families in joint-custody and sole-custody arrangements:
In short, if you can agree to most of the following statements, joint custody could work for your family:
Be honest with yourself. If your feelings don't allow you to accept these guidelines, then get some counseling. If that doesn't work, then joint custody is not a good choice for your family.
When Joint Custody Won't Work
Candace and Bill had been snapping at each other for years by the time they decided to divorce. The manager of a medical clinic in the neighborhood, Bill couldn't keep his eyes off Marion, a lab technician ten years his junior. Eventually, what had started out as an office flirtation turned into a passionate romance, and Bill asked Candace for a divorce. Of course, Candace was shocked. Despite the fact that she, too, was dissatisfied with the marriage, thinking about Bill moving out -- to marry someone else -- made Candace's heart race with anxiety.>/font>
When Bill decided it was time to work out the details of the divorce, he requested joint legal custody of the two children, Gwen, 14, and Martin, 12. The thought of giving up his role as decision-maker was too much to bear. Candace, humiliated by Bill's abrupt dismissal, wanted as little to do with him as possible and could not imagine sitting down to make mutual decisions for the kids.
In this situation, Candace and Bill would have to transcend their bitterness for joint legal custody to work. As long as the animosity continued, it would not be possible to share decisions about the children. If Candace and Bill's situation continued with ongoing conflict, as many of these situations do, joint legal custody would result in more fighting and perennial visits to court.
Pamela Weintraub and Terry Hillman are co-founders of Divorce Central, an online service. Ms. Weintraub is the author of more than a dozen books and was previously editor-in-chief of OMNI Internet. Ms. Hillman owns a business that produces multimedia educational programs for professionals. This article has been excerpted from their book The Complete Idiot's Guide to Surviving Divorce.
For more articles on child custody, visit http://www.divorcemag.com/articles/Child_Custody.