How Does Joint Custody Work?

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Parties can get joint custody in two ways, which are further broken down into when the parties can get joint custody. The parties can agree between themselves to share joint custody, and the Court can order joint custody. There does not have to be a divorce in place for the Court to order joint custody. The Court may order joint custody during the divorce proceedings or during other proceedings such as domestic violence proceeding where a domestic violence injunction (DVI) is served or, if the parties have separated, but cannot agree on joint custody, and do not wish to file for divorce yet, they can apply to the Court for an order on joint custody.

What is Joint Custody?

Joint custody is when two parties with children separate and share custody of the children. Joint custody means that the parties each get a certain number of days with the children. The time does not have to be equal. Some courts are now calling it "time sharing."

How Much Time Will I Get to Spend With My Children?

How much time you get to spend with your children depends on your agreement with the other parent or, in the case of a court order, what schedule the Court orders for joint custody. Many courts use a basic schedule for joint custody. One parent is designated the primary residential parent and the other parent is designated the secondary residential parent. While either parent can be primary, courts will generally award primary to the mother, unless the parties agree that the father should have primary or the mother has serious drug, alcohol or psychological issues.

Joint Custody Arrangements and Schedules

If the parties cannot decide on a schedule on their own, many courts order a base schedule of every other weekend and rotating holidays. With rotating holidays, one parent gets a set of holidays on even numbered years and the other set on odd numbered years. If a parent has Thanksgiving on even numbered years, she will have the first half of Christmas vacation on odd numbered years, including Christmas morning. The split is usually midday on Christmas. The other parent gets the child Christmas afternoon and then for a few days. Other rotating holidays are usually Labor Day and Memorial Day and the spring break and summer break are usually split in half. The only holidays that do not rotate are Mother's Day and Father's Day. The respective parent always gets visitation on those days.

50/50 Custody

Another form of joint custody is 50/50 custody. The courts tend to shy away from this, as it can be a difficult arrangement for the children if the parties live too far apart. If the parties live within a few miles of each other, and the children would attend the same school whether they are at mom's or dad's, the court is generally more willing to order 50/50 custody. 50/50 custody can work in many ways. Usually one parent keeps the children for a week, then the children go to the other parent's home. Sometimes parties agree on a 2-week rotation. Though it is not popular, the parties may even do a monthly rotation with visitation on the weekends.


If the parties have 50/50 custody, the children usually have a set of clothes and age-appropriate toys at each parent's home. The parent that has custody at time of any doctor's appointments or school activities usually takes the children to that particular appointment or activity, unless it is agreed that the other parent will pick up the children for their appointments. If the parents have a rotating type schedule, the primary parent sends the children to the other parent with enough clothes for the time the children will be spending with the other parent. The other parent may also have extra clothes at his residence. The primary parent is usually responsible for taking the children to any appointments and after school activities, unless otherwise agreed upon.


An attorney did not write this article. This is not legal advice and is not to be taken as legal advice. If you are having custody issues, it is recommended that you contact an attorney. Custody laws vary from state to state.


About the Author

Cayden Conor has been writing since 1996. She has been published on several websites and in the winter 1996 issue of "QECE." Conor specializes in home and garden, dogs, legal, automotive and business subjects, with years of hands-on experience in these areas. She has an Associate of Science (paralegal) from Manchester Community College and studied computer science, criminology and education at University of Tampa.