Your Guide to Joint Child Custody

Child custody is important for parents of minor children. Depending on the family situation, custody may be sole or joint. Here, we'll discuss everything you need to know about joint child custody.

What is joint child custody?

Joint child custody refers to a legal arrangement in which both parents share equal responsibility for making important decisions about their child's upbringing. This includes the physical care and residence of the child. 

A joint custody arrangement is designed to keep both parents actively involved in their child's life after a separation or divorce.

Joint child custody may be considered in the following situations:

  • Both parents agree on sharing custody. If parents are willing to cooperate and communicate effectively about their child's needs, joint custody can be a viable option. This arrangement requires a high level of commitment and cooperation from both people to make it work.
  • The child's best interests are considered. Courts prioritize the welfare and best interests of the child when determining custody arrangements. Factors that may be taken into account include the child's age, emotional and physical health, the stability of each parent's home environment, and the ability of each parent to meet the child's needs.
  • There is no history of domestic violence or abuse. Joint custody is usually not recommended in cases where there is a history of domestic violence, substance abuse, or other issues that could endanger the child's well-being.

Parents may seek joint child custody for various reasons, including the following:

  • Both parents want to maintain a strong relationship with the child. Joint custody allows both parents to be actively involved in their child's life, fostering strong emotional bonds and promoting the child's overall well-being.
  • They want parenting responsibilities to be shared. Parents to divide parenting duties and decision-making responsibilities more equitably, which can reduce stress and conflict.
  • They want to promote stability and consistency. Joint custody can provide the child with a sense of stability and consistency, as they continue to have a relationship with both parents and maintain routines in both households.
  • They want to minimize disruption in the child’s life. A joint custody arrangement can help minimize disruptions to the child's life by allowing them to maintain relationships with friends, family, and community in both parents' neighborhoods.

What are my parental rights with joint child custody?

With joint child custody, both parents have equal rights and responsibilities when it comes to making decisions about their child's upbringing. These rights typically include the following.

Legal decision-making

Co-parents can both participate in making major decisions that affect their child's life. This includes decisions regarding education, healthcare, religion, and extracurricular activities.

Physical custody

Joint custody often involves shared physical custody. This means the child lives with both parents according to a predetermined schedule. The arrangement allows both parents to be actively involved in their child's day-to-day life, including routine activities like meals, bedtime, and homework.

Access to records

Both parents may access their child's medical, dental, educational, and other important records. This helps each parent stay informed about their child's well-being and progress.


Parents can communicate directly with their child as well as with teachers, doctors, and other professionals in the child's life. This helps facilitate ongoing involvement and collaboration between both parents.

Participation in special events

Both parents may attend their child's special events, such as school functions, sports games, performances, and other important milestones.

Right to travel

Depending on the specific terms of the custody agreement, both parents may travel with their child, provided they adhere to any guidelines or restrictions outlined in the agreement.

Modification of custody arrangements

If circumstances change, either parent may request a modification of the custody arrangement. This could involve changes to the visitation schedule, decision-making responsibilities, or other aspects of the joint custody agreement.

How is joint custody established?

Joint child custody is established through a legal process that typically involves the following steps:

  •  Negotiation between parents: Before initiating any legal proceedings, it's often beneficial for parents to discuss their preferences and try to reach an agreement on joint custody terms. This may involve creating a parenting plan that outlines the division of responsibilities, visitation schedules, decision-making processes, and other important aspects of joint custody.

  •  Mediation: If parents cannot reach an agreement on their own, they may choose to participate in mediation. Mediation is a voluntary process in which a neutral third party (the mediator) helps parents communicate effectively and work toward a mutually agreeable custody arrangement.

  •  Filing a petition with the court: If an agreement is reached during negotiation or mediation, the parents must file a petition with the appropriate family court to formalize the joint custody arrangement. If no agreement is reached, a parent may file a petition requesting joint custody, and the court will evaluate the case.

  •  Court evaluation: The court will review the submitted documents and consider various factors to determine whether joint custody is in the best interest of the child. Factors may include the child's age, emotional and physical health, each parent's ability to provide a stable environment, and the level of cooperation between parents.

  •  Custody hearing: In some cases, the court may schedule a custody hearing. At the hearing, both parents can present evidence and make arguments to support their desired custody arrangement. The judge may also hear from witnesses, such as teachers, doctors, or other professionals involved in the child's life.

  •  Court order:  After evaluating the case, the judge will issue a court order outlining the terms of the joint custody arrangement. This order is legally binding and must be followed by both parents. The order may specify details such as visitation schedules, decision-making responsibilities, and requirements for communication between parents.

  •  Modification and enforcement: If circumstances change, either parent may request a modification of the joint custody arrangement by filing a petition with the court. Additionally, if one parent fails to adhere to the terms of the custody order, the other can seek enforcement through the legal system.

It's important to note that the specific process for establishing joint child custody may vary depending on local laws and regulations. In every instance, however, courts will consider the best interest of the child.

Shared custody decision-making tips

Here are some tips from Erin Levine, Founder and CEO of Hello Divorce and a lawyer with two decades of experience navigating family law.

Tax Credits/Benefits

  • Alternate years for child dependency claims
  • Reassess tax benefits with child support recalculations

Health insurance

  • Select optimal health coverage; compare plans
  • Share uninsured medical costs based on income
  • Joint fund for unexpected healthcare costs


  • Choose schools considering child’s needs, parent proximity
  • Share costs for supplies, tuition, activities
  • Joint education fund for future expenses

Child support/financial planning

  • Base child support on current income
  • Adjust support for income or lifestyle changes
  • Contribute to college funds or future savings
  • Regularly update support agreements

Housing/living arrangements

  • Consider each child’s schooling and social life in housing
  • Plan for future housing changes
  • Ensure comfortable, stable environments in both homes


  • Have a shared calendar for child’s activities and events
  • Set guidelines for emergency changes
  • Use regular, effective communication methods
  • Use digital tools like apps for scheduling and information sharing

Hello Divorce's services

  • Easily incorporate your child-related agreements into divorce judgments with our software
  • Get as-needed expert advice for decision-making and financial conflicts.

FAQ about child custody

Why might a parent choose joint custody?

A parent might choose joint custody for various reasons, as it offers benefits for the child and the parents involved. Some of these benefits include:

Maintaining strong relationships
Sharing parenting responsibilities
Promoting stability and consistency
Minimizing disruption
Encouraging cooperation and communication
Positive role modeling
Reducing parental alienation
Financial benefits

It's important to note that joint custody may not be suitable for every family. This is particularly true in cases involving domestic violence, substance abuse, or other issues that could endanger the child's well-being. However, when both parents are committed to making joint custody work, it can significantly benefit the child and parents involved.

What might a joint custody weekly schedule look like?

A joint custody weekly schedule can vary depending on the needs and preferences of the family. 

Here's an example of a common joint custody schedule:

Week 1

Monday and Tuesday: Child stays with Parent A
Wednesday and Thursday: Child stays with Parent B
Friday, Saturday, and Sunday: Child stays with Parent A

Week 2

Monday and Tuesday: Child stays with Parent A
Wednesday and Thursday: Child stays with Parent B
Friday, Saturday, and Sunday: Child stays with Parent B

This parenting time schedule, often referred to as a 2-2-3 or alternating weekends schedule, provides the child with regular contact with both parents while maintaining consistency in their routine.

Why might a parent prefer to have primary custody?

Some parents might prefer primary custody over joint custody for various reasons:

Stability: A parent may believe that having one primary residence for the child offers more stability and consistency in terms of daily routines, school, and social life.

Conflict resolution: If parents have difficulty communicating or cooperating, one parent might prefer primary custody to minimize conflicts and streamline decision-making.

Proximity: If parents live far apart or have demanding work schedules, it might be more practical for one parent to have primary custody to avoid frequent disruptions and long commutes for the child.

Unique circumstances: In cases where there is a history of domestic violence, substance abuse, or other issues that could endanger the child's well-being, one parent may seek primary custody to protect the child.

Why might a parent decide to have non-primary custody?

A parent might decide to have non-primary custody (also known as visitation) instead of joint custody due to the following reasons:

Work or personal commitments: A parent with a demanding job or other obligations might feel they cannot provide the level of care and attention needed for joint custody. They may prefer a visitation arrangement that allows them to spend quality time with their child without the additional responsibilities of joint custody.

Geographical distance: If one parent lives far away, it might be more practical for them to have non-primary custody, allowing the child to maintain a stable life in one location while still having regular contact with the non-custodial parent through visits or virtual communication.

Personal choice: A parent may simply feel more comfortable with a non-primary custody arrangement, believing it is the best option for their child and themselves.

Ultimately, the decision to pursue joint custody, primary custody, or non-primary custody depends on the circumstances and preferences of each family. It's essential to prioritize the child's best interests when making these decisions.

Suggested: Joint Legal Custody and Medical Decisions

Divorce Content Specialist & Lawyer
Divorce Strategy, Divorce Process, Legal Insights

Bryan is a non-practicing lawyer, HR consultant, and legal content writer. With nearly 20 years of experience in the legal field, he has a deep understanding of family and employment laws. His goal is to provide readers with clear and accessible information about the law, and to help people succeed by providing them with the knowledge and tools they need to navigate the legal landscape. Bryan lives in Orlando, Florida.