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Shared Custody - Good or bad idea?

Updated on August 23, 2017

Types of Custody - Overview

Joint or shared custody has become more and more popular. Is it always a good idea? What are the pitfalls?

Two kinds of custody.

Legal: Who gets to make decisions about the kids' welfare, school, religious upbringing, etc., etc.

Physical: Where they will live.

Both can be shared. When they are not, they are called sole custody. It is possible to share legal custody, but not physical or vice versa.

Shared Custody

Kids come first

There is little doubt what kids want. They want two parents who love them and who love each other. When the latter is missing the former becomes so much more important. The responsibility to give them what they need is entirely on you and your ex. They are completely dependent on you for all essentials especially the ones beyond food, shelter and clothing. They can do nothing on their own.

Therefore, it is no longer about what you want. It is about what they want. It is really easy to forget that when your own emotional and practical situation requires all your resources.

It is important that the kids get to spend normal time with both parents. Being a weekend dad or mom who gets to do the fun stuff usually doesn't work for the other parent who gets to do the hard parenting. To accomplish this you will have to come to an agreement in great detail not only

1. When the children spend time with each parent but also

2. What kind of activities can happen while leaving room for some flexibility.

Some really important elements of this plan would be: Consistency and predictability. Kids in shared custody arrangements often feel like nomads. Home is nowhere or everywhere. It becomes really important for them that the schedule doesn't change on the spur of the moment. Changes to the schedule need to be carefully planned and communicated with the kids. The older they get, the more of a say they'll want in these matters, too.

Having the same chores with both parents is a great way to provide consistency. Consistency in discipline, bedtimes, and homework are other ways to accomplish this. If you and your ex are not on the same page, you will be played against each other. That's not good for anybody.

Another way to achieve this is by nesting. Nesting means that the kids stay in one place and the parents are the ones who have to move from place to place. Try it and you will see how hard it really is. It could also be a financial drain unless the parents can share one place away from the nest. Technically, that should be doable, but maybe not emotionally. Deciding whose needs come first should quickly settle that, though.

Even the best plan is likely to change over time as the children age. Continuing communication with the ex is required. Some people will need a third-party mediator to accomplish this. Or you will have to learn the communication skills to do it on your own and that is going to feel a lot like marriage counseling. When that becomes really painful, just remember, you're doing it for them, not you.


I wanted to make a special case for


A lot of shared custody plans involve uprooting the kids every week or two, making them pack up everything they own and transporting them to the other parent's home.

Nesting involves leaving the children in one place, the nest. The parents are ones who have to move in and out instead. Of course, this is hard on the parents and not everyone has the same level of capacity to deal with it. I just wanted to highlight this little used option. It makes a lot of sense to me.

Parenting Plan

How to create a plan that works

The first step was rather easy, wasn't it? Realizing that their needs come before your own was the easy part. Now comes the hard part: Setting aside the differences you have with your ex and focus on the task of creating a plan.

In their book: Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In, Roger Fisher et al. give us a strategy how to do this. They tell you to focus on interests rather than positions. A position is something you have decided you want. An interest is why you want it. "I'll not pay a cent more than $50," is a position. The statement leaves out the possibility that you might want to consider paying $55 if you could do it over a few months. The reason why you were only willing to pay $50 was that you only had $50 in your pocket. Focusing on interests allow you to explore alternative options.

Of course, this is much harder to do when you absolute do not like the person you're talking to. Fortunately, there is help available. Life coaches and therapists are excellent for this. Coaches tend to focus more on the future than therapists. Therapists generally look back to uncover the underlying reasons that are blocking you from moving forward.

If you have negotiated your divorce with the aid of a divorce mediator, he or she might also be able to help you make adjustments as you go along. Even if your divorce was hotly contested, professionals can help you do what is necessary to put the children first.

Books For Parents and Children of Divorce - Making it Work

You can always go to court and get a plan for how to live your life. Since it's your life, shouldn't you design it? Luckily, there is plenty of help to get. Amazon is full of wisdom, lots of ideas for shared custody.

Mom's House, Dad's House: Making two homes for your child
Mom's House, Dad's House: Making two homes for your child

It's a classic for a reason. Straightforward ways to cope with turning one home into two.

Two Homes
Two Homes

Picture book for the very young.


Your Verdict - Good or Bad?

Here's another way to chime in.

Is shared custody

There are probably as many parenting solutions as there are families. Here is an opportunity to share what worked for you. Or, perhaps somebody already found a solution to your problem.

Chime In - Share a tip or pick one up.

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    • Erin Mellor profile image

      Erin Mellor 4 years ago from Europe

      My parents went with sole physical and joint legal custody, with twice weekly visitation. It worked as well as could be expected I guess, but the really important thing was that they both reassured me and my siblings that they both loved us. They may have hated each other at the time, but they didn't make us the football, which is important.

    • profile image

      liamsquidoo 4 years ago

      Great lens, enjoyed reading it. Keep up squidooing :)

    • DeborahDian profile image

      Deborah Carr 5 years ago from Orange County, California

      I think shared custody can just prolong the the pain, confusion and stress of the divorce. Although it would be idea for couples to manage it, ideal couples don't get divorced. Shared custody can be a nightmare for a responsible parent, if the other parent has alcohol, drug abuse or other addiction problems, which is frequently the case.

    • kabbalah lm profile image

      kabbalah lm 5 years ago

      Better to keep peace amongst all involved

    • WriterJanis2 profile image

      WriterJanis2 5 years ago

      I'm not in this situation, but if the parents can come together for the sake of the children, I think shared custody would be nice.