Not so long ago, most divorce involving children had standard, predictable outcomes. The children lived with their mother but had regular visitation with their father. While the father may have been involved in the children’s lives, most of their time was spent in the mother’s home.
While that is still a very common outcome to child custody and visitation cases, more and more couples are opting to negotiate joint custody arrangements in which each parent is equally involved in the children’s lives.
This shift in view on custody and visitation has been caused by a few factors. First, many mothers now work outside the home and have successful and lucrative careers. Second, many fathers now handle parenting duties, whether it’s staying home with the children, preparing their meals, or getting them ready for school every morning.
Many divorcing couples now acknowledge that they would like for parenting to remain a two-person job even if the parents aren’t married to each other. While a joint parenting plan may be in the best interests of the children, that doesn’t mean it will be easier to execute than a plan in which one person has primary custody.
Here are several key points to consider when designing a joint parenting or co-parenting plan:
- A joint parenting plan may be more expensive than if one parent had custody. This is because both homes will have to serve as homes for the children. That means two sets of clothes, two sets of toys, two computers, two of everything that the children need to live their lives. This can be complicated when one parent is in a stronger financial position than the other. The wealthier parent must be careful not to use their financial means to “tip the scale” so that the child prefers spending time at their house rather than the less affluent parent’s home.
- Communication between parents is extremely important. Joint parenting can only work if the parents are able to communicate with each other in a courteous and professional manner. Because the child won’t be spending the majority of his or her time at one home, it may be more difficult for a parent to pick up on problems or areas that need attention. Parents need to be able to communicate these issues with each other.
- Joint parenting does not always mean equal time. Especially as children get older, their schedule may dictate that they spend more time with one parent than the other, possibly because of convenience or geographical issues.
Joint parenting agreements are a positive development in child custody, especially for fathers. However, they take just as much work and care as traditional custody and visitation plans.