There are two elements to your custody decision: one element is legal custody and the other is physical or residential custody. In the case of joint legal custody, the parties together make major life decisions for the children, such as where they will go to school, medical decisions, etc. In the case of joint physical or residential custody, the parties share parenting time on an agreed-upon schedule, which can be any schedule that works for the family. Some parents agree to equal parenting time, some agree to a schedule in which one party has more parenting time and will likely be designated as the parent of primary residence. In a shared custody arrangement, the parent with custody on any given day makes day-to-day decisions for the child.
The parenting schedule depends on the overall best interests of the child. Factors that go into that decision include, but are not limited to:
- the child’s needs,
- geographic circumstances,
- the parties’ work schedules,
- the child’s schedule.
The parties create a schedule that can work for the entire family. They can do this through their attorneys or a mediator, or they can seek the help of a child specialist who is a licensed mental health professional often used in the collaborative divorce process. Such professionals are also available to aid parties in litigated or mediated matters. It is rare to see one parent be awarded, or agree to, sole custody absent the presence of significant abuse, addiction, or mental health issues.
Amy Zylman Shimalla is a Certified Matrimonial Law Attorney in Warren, New Jersey and a partner with the law firm of Shimalla, Wechsler, Lepp & D’Onofrio, LLP.