Skip to Content

What Is the Difference Between Joint Custody and Shared Custody?

If you’re getting divorced and you have children with your soon-to-be ex, agreeing on custody arrangements can be challenging. If both you and your ex want to be consistent in your child’s life and the court doesn’t have good reason to keep either of you away from the child, you’ll likely be awarded joint legal and physical custody.

However, shared custody is an option as well, and this differs slightly from joint custody. You’ve likely heard of the terms shared custody and joint custody, but you may not be completely clear on what they entail.

If you’re faced with a custody decision and want to ensure you’re making the best choice for your child, it’s crucial to know the difference.

Legal Custody vs Physical Custody

When it comes to child custody, it’s crucial to remember that custody falls in two categories: physical custody and legal custody.

Physical custody refers to who will actually look after the child. This pertains to where the child lives and which parent they are with at any given time.

The parent who has physical custody is in charge of making minor, daily decisions on the child’s behalf.

Legal custody refers to the responsibility and right of the parent to make serious, long-term choices that pertain to the child’s well-being.

Some states don’t have a clear definition of legal custody. In these cases, a judge or the individuals in the custody arrangement can define the meaning of legal custody as it relates to the child’s best interests.

Legal custody rights include the right to make crucial decisions about a child’s life, including extracurricular activities, education, and healthcare.

What Is Joint Custody?

When people use the term “joint custody,” they are usually referring to joint legal custody.

Joint legal custody agreements are based on shared parenting duties. This means both parents have a say in making decisions for their children. In a joint custody arrangement, one parent can’t make significant changes in the child’s life unless the other parent agrees.

Both parents have to agree on things like the school the child will attend, the type of medical insurance the child needs, and any activities the child participates in outside of school.

For joint custody agreements to work, you and your former spouse have to cooperate and compromise. Both parents in a joint custody arrangement should have enough trust in the other parent to know that the child will be protected and properly cared for at all times.

What Is Shared Custody?

“Shared custody” is the term used to describe joint physical custody.

In this arrangement, both parents have a right to spend time with their child. Most people consider joint physical custody to be an arrangement in which each parent spends equal or nearly equal time with the child, but this is not always the case.

Sometimes, the child spends most of their time with the custodial parent, and the other parent is granted visitation rights. However, a shared custody agreement in which the child spends significant time with both parents is becoming more common.

Sole physical custody is the alternative to shared custody, and this means that the child will be with one parent most of the time, and the other parent can spend time with the child occasionally. If one parent has sole custody of the child, the other parent will likely be required to pay child support.

Although joint custody doesn’t necessarily mean equal parenting time, you and your ex will share many of the parenting responsibilities that come with raising children.

If you want joint custody, it’s also a good idea to make sure you and your former spouse get along as much as possible. Working with a mediator can keep heated disagreements at bay so you can focus on what’s best for your child.

Jeff Campbell