When two adults decide to go their separate ways, many factors come into play. One of the biggest is whether or not children are involved. If they are, then parents will need to either file for sole or joint custody.

When it comes to most cases, joint custody is an ideal plan of action because then both parents not only get to remain constant influences in the child’s life, but they both get to remain active participants in the children’s day to day lives.

What is Joint Custody?

Joint custody can be a scary thought for parents who are either considering divorce and even for unmarried couples who are either going their separate ways or those deciding who will be the primary caretaker of the children.

So, what is joint custody? Joint custody specifies with whom the couple’s children will be living with and all circumstances under which the other parent will be able to visit or otherwise spend time with their children.

When it comes to joint custody, there are two primary forms, including

joint legal custody

joint physical custody

In most cases, the parents can work out a custody arrangement amongst themselves, meaning they don’t need the help of attorneys, mediators or the courts. If the two adults cannot agree, that is when attorneys or a mediator are brought into the mix.

It is the job of the mediator and the attorneys to help create an agreement that is not only in the best interest of the children but of the parents as well. When an agreement can’t be made at this juncture, that is when things are escalated to the courts, where a judge will be put in charge of the matter.

While the thought of custody hearings can be both scary and intimidating, they don’t have to be. If parents take a little time to research their options, they can know what to expect when getting started, and having that knowledge can put their anxieties at ease.

Joint Legal Custody

Joint legal custody allows both parents to make decisions for their children. This includes making medical treatment decisions, and while both parents are allowed to make decisions, it is highly recommended that the parents stay in constant communication with one another and that both parents be involved in decision making.

In the tragic event that one parent passes away or becomes disabled, legal custody will go to the remaining parent. This also means that the active parent will assume sole responsibility to act as parent for the child without further orders from the court.

Joint Physical Custody

Where joint legal custody allows for both parents to be involved in making decisions regarding the children, joint physical custody allows both parents a reasonable amount of time spent with the children. This is a little different from visitation because it allows for the children to spend so many days and evenings with one parent, and so many with the other.

While many couples believe that joint physical custody means evenly split custody between the two parents, that isn’t always the case. It comes down to the amount of time that each individual can reasonably dedicate to their children. In many instances, a weekly or monthly schedule is laid out, and different factors are included in making the schedule. These factors include certain days of the week, certain weeks in the month, holidays and so one.

Pros and Cons of Joint Custody

When it comes to the ides of custody battles, it can be hard to think of the good and the bad that this legal agreement can do not only for the parents but the children and family as a whole.


Joint custody can be difficult to see as a positive thing, especially for those who are going through a difficult divorce or split. However, once parents can take a few moments to breathe, they may find that joint custody is not only good for their children but for the relationship between them and their soon to be ex-partner.

So, what are some positive aspects of joint custody?

  • The first positive is the fact that the parents are forced to keep a line of communication open to properly care for their children and make joint decisions. This is always a best-case scenario for the kids considering their parents have to work together to provide the best possible outcome for them, and in most cases, that is the goal for both parents.
  • The fact that the children get to see their parents co-parenting collaboratively helps to demonstrate that, even in hard times, working together is always the best options. It can also help teach the children that compromising and working through disagreements is the best option for all involved.


Divorce and separation are hard enough on a family, and while many chose to think of the positive side of filing for joint custody, it doesn’t come without its negative effects.

  • For instance, while it is ideal for parents to collaborate when it comes to decisions about their children, it isn’t always easy to do. When two adults are forced to work together, against their will, it has the potential to create an even more hostile environment for the children. Adults aren’t always able to agree or able to demonstrate healthy co-parenting skills, and this can lead to further arguments.
  • Another downside is that some parent’s claim that certain situations can be manipulated. This is especially hard when a given situation makes it hard, or even impractical to consult with one another before reaching a decision. Say a child is extremely ill and needs immediate medical attention. One parent may make a decision that they believe is in the best interest of the child, while the other may feel left out and claim that they weren’t consulted.
  • Yes, joint custody can be difficult, and it is nearly impossible for most families to go about life as if nothing has changed. However, through hard work and having open lines of communications, joint custody can be navigated, and an ideal roadmap for each individual family can be drawn out. It is going to take time, and no one plan will be ideal for every family. So, take the time to talk with your ex-partner, your attorney or mediator and remember, this can work if both parties really give it their all.

Filing for Joint Custody

When it comes to filing for joint custody in the United States, the steps and proper measures all vary depending on which state a couple resides in. That being said, the steps below are simply a general outline one should take when considering filing for joint custody as a part of a divorce or separation. For more detailed information, you’ll want to check with your local court Clerk for the proper steps needed in your area.

1. Fill Out Parental Responsibilities Form

First thing’s first, the filing party will need to ask the court for a parental responsibilities form. To get this form, the party may also need to file a petition for one of the following:

  • Divorce
  • Legal separation
  • Parentage
  • Order of protection

Make sure to properly fill out all forms to the best of your knowledge. In these cases, it is best to have an attorney helping you through these steps and helping you fill out all the documentation.

2. File All Forms with The Court

File all forms with not only your county but with the county of the second party if they are currently living separately from you.  Once you file your petition, you will be assigned a Case Management Conference which will need to take place within 90 days from the day the second parent is served.

3. Inform the Second Party About the Case

As part of the process, you must legally inform the other parent of the case and that you are asking for parental responsibilities. In order to do this, you’ll need to send the petition and a summons to the second part. If this isn’t done within the required timeframe, the case can be dismissed.

4. Wait for a Reply or Ask for A Default Judgment

A default judgment can be asked of the court if the second party doesn’t respond to the summons within the given time period. A default judgment is a judgment in the filing party’s favor if the second party doesn’t show up. Not all custody cases will be granted a default judgment because many courts are mandated to do what is in the best interest of the child, not the filing party.

5. Prepare A Parenting Plan

This is where the parents will want to sit down and come up with an action plan. In most cases, the filing parent will come up with a plan and send a copy for the other to either agree to it or request amendments.

6. Head to Court

If a parenting plan cannot be reached between to two parties, then a judge will set a trial or hearing date. The judge will then decide who gets parental responsibilities, which will be based on what is best for the child or children.

Doing What’s Best for Your Kids

father with his daughters blowing a bubbles

When it comes to joint custody, no matter what path the parents choose, as in coming up with a plan together or having a judge make the decision, it must all be done with the children in mind. Joint custody doesn’t have to be a tumultuous process. If the parents work together and take the best interest of the children to heart, then a proper plan of action can and will be reached.

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