Be active: A look at how to make shared custody work

Shared custody lets both parents remain active in their child’s life but making shared custody work requires active communication.

When two loving parents consider divorce, they both want to spend time with their child going forward. Fortunately, family law has an answer: shared custody. While shared custody may sound like an easy, straightforward solution, parents will still need to be active in addressing and resolving issues in order to make shared custody work for them and most importantly the child.

Shared custody

Child custody refers to two kinds of custody: physical and legal custody. Both types of custody can be sole or shared. Shared legal custody is when both parents have the right to make life decisions for the child, including decisions about school, medical care, religion and general welfare. Shared physical custody concerns where the child lives day-to-day and is when the child spends continued and frequent time with both parents and resides and is under the supervision of each. A parenting agreement or plan normally sets out the rules on how parents will make shared life decisions and how parents will share time raising the child. Oftentimes, the parenting agreement will outline ways to resolve issues that come up, but not every event in life can be planned for.

Examples of potential difficulties and some ways to address them

Parents managing shared custody often have to navigate a number of issues including sharing holidays and family events, managing school and extracurricular schedules, shuffling between households, managing their own career and social obligations, responding to medical emergencies, solving disagreements, and addressing the emotions that come with settling all these issues.

Divorced parents are often tempted to vent their frustration with the other parent by speaking poorly of him or her. Parents should not speak poorly of their former partner to their child. The child loves both parents no matter their supposed shortcomings and any bad-mouthing can be internalized by the child. When tackling custody issues, parents should realize that custody is about the child and not about themselves, so parents should understand that doing what is best for themselves is not the same as doing what is best for the child. Therefore, parents should be realistic when scheduling and developing commitments and should look at the custody arrangement as a business owner would a partnership. This approach helps remove emotion.

Parents should also develop an agreeable way to communicate. The success of shared custody depends on the ability of the parents to communicate openly. Open communication requires being up front and may require explaining a taken position but does not give license to be argumentative. These days parents can quickly address and resolve issues over text and email as well as over the phone, and applications like Google calendars can help parents better organize. When creating the arrangement parents should think about age, needs and activities of the child, and once a schedule has been set it's okay to revisit and change the arrangement as the needs of the child change over time. An arrangement for a toddler is likely not going to be the same as an arrangement for a teenager.

Contact an attorney

To better understand the challenges of shared custody or other types of child custody, contact an experienced family law attorney. A family law attorney can help you outline what lays ahead while helping you understand your rights as a parent.

Keywords: shared custody, potential difficulties, solutions