Thinking About Shared Residential Custody
Five years ago if you were to ask someone to identify a standard/typical custody arrangement between divorced parents, they would most likely say that the parents were sharing joint legal custody (i.e. decision making) but that one parent had the majority of the time with the child (the parent of primary residence). The other parent had a parenting time schedule which could have been alternating weekends or what have you.
What the court has seen over the past few years is that more and more parents are seeking both joint legal and joint residential custody (commonly referred to as fifty-fifty or shared residential custody). Different people have different opinions as to why the courts are seeing an increased push by many litigants for this type of custody resolution. This article will not take a position as to whether or not shared residential custody is a good or bad thing. Instead, this article will identify some of the considerations that you should examine before advocating for shared residential custody.
First, do not ignore or discount the child’s routine and schedule. For example, if the child plays a sport on a particular night and one parent is the coach of the team, it probably does not make sense logistically for the other person to seek parenting time on this particular night. Likewise, the child will have friendships, bus routes and other routines that could become disrupted. Separation and divorce is hard enough on a child without turning their entire world potentially upside down.
Second, do not ignore or discount the back and forth pull that the children will no doubt feel. While a rotating schedule that provides for two days on and two days off may be “fair” to the parents as to the number of nights they each will have, be mindful of the fact that the children will be going back and forth between the residences constantly, perhaps even living out of their suitcases.
Third, be mindful of the schools and medical providers. While the courts may be coming more accustom to the idea of shared residential custody, many schools and doctor offices remain accustomed to one parent serving as the primary point of contact. There needs to be a clear understanding with the various offices as to how communication is going to be handled. And, importantly, school districts need to know as a matter of law that the children’s “primary” residence is actually within the school district. So, even if parents are sharing joint residential custody, it will most likely be necessary to at least designate a parent of primary residence for school attendance purposes.
Fourth, some parents advocate for a shared parenting arrangement as a way to reduce their child support obligation. This is because pursuant to the New Jersey Child Support Guidelines, the child support obligation typically reduces as the number of parenting time overnights increase. This is the wrong reason to seek shared residential custody. The reality is that while you may be paying less child support to the other parent, you are going to have increased expenses as you will be financially responsible for the child when they are with you.
Finally, never forget that the legal standard applied by the court is the best interests of the child. It is not what is necessarily in the best interest of mom and/or the best interest of dad. In the eyes of the court, at the end of the day, the parenting time schedule must be what is in the best interests of the child. The take away- do not be selfish when thinking about these important and potentially sensitive issues.
All of the attorneys at Domers, Bonamassa & Hynes are well versed and have years of experience addressing family law issues, no matter how complicated. Contact us today at (856) 596-2888 for a private consultation. We appear in the following counties: Burlington, Camden, Gloucester, Cumberland, Salem, Mercer, Ocean, Atlantic and Cape May. Our practice areas include: divorce, custody, parenting time, child support, alimony, domestic violence, college expenses, equitable distribution, name changes, step parent adoptions, paternity issues, child abuse and neglect, prenuptial agreements, mediation and arbitration.
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