Short answer – however the parties want it to work.
In a tradition custody arrangement usually all the rights are equal with the exception of four — one party usually gets the right to establish the child’s legal domicile and residence (frequently restricted), one party frequently gets the right to make educational decisions (which school the child goes to), one party gets the right to receive child support, and one party gets the right to make decisions concerning surgical procedures.
When you do a true joint custody these rights are frequently allocated between the parties equally or in a different manner. For example I’ve seen joint custody arrangements whereby one party gets to establish the legal residence of the child within a restricted geographical area, and the other party gets to make educational decisions. I have seen joint custody arrangements where the parties can live anywhere they want – but the child is required to live within a defined geographical area. I’ve seen many joint custody arrangements where the parent who has a medical training background is given the right to make major medical decisions, even though the child may be spending more time with the other parent.
I’ve seen many joint custody arrangements where no child support is paid by either party; sometimes they have other arrangements for paying child-related expenditures, and in other situations they simply provide that each party gets to support the child when the child is in their possession.
The beauty of joint custody is that the parties’ can structure the periods of possession to fit their schedules and their children’s schedules. Many couples are doing one week/one week with the exchange taking place on Sunday afternoon. With the one week/one week arrangement the child has continuity all week. My experience has been that the parent who is on duty during the week tends to works the shortest hours possible and spend the maximum time with the child. The off duty party tends to spend the week working really hard.
The real beauty of a joint custody arrangement is you can structure an arrangement which fits both parties’ needs and the child’s needs. All too frequently in traditional custody arrangements really neither parent’s needs are properly addressed, and as a consequence the child is the loser.
John K. Grubb practices family law in Houston. He has a BBA, MBA, and a JD Degree. John K. Grubb focuses a significant part of his family law practice on helping couples create premarital and prenuptial agreements in Texas.