Despite parents’ heartbreak during divorce or separation, it’s often children who suffer most.

In the blink of an eye, their entire world shifts. Their future can feel frightening and unclear. And if parents aren’t careful, their arguments can have a lifelong negative impact.

That’s why it’s so important to take the time to understand and think through your options, especially when it comes to joint custody vs. shared custody. If you’re wondering what the difference is and which is right for your family, you’ve come to the right place.

What Is the Difference Between Joint Custody and Shared Custody?

As you struggle with a complicated separation, you may be wondering, “Are joint custody and shared custody the same?” Some states use these terms interchangeably, which makes the topic confusing. However, there are actually some subtle differences between them to keep in mind.

What Is Joint Custody?

With joint custody, parents have an equal say in major decisions about their child’s development and upbringing. In other words, both parents have what is known as “joint legal custody” over their children.

What Is Shared Custody?

In most states, when someone uses the term “shared custody” or even “joint shared custody,” they mean parents have “joint physical custody.”

Having “physical custody” of a child means that parents share physical control (“custody”) of their children as well.

Usually, parents will work out a schedule that fits both parents’ work and lifestyle needs while keeping their children’s needs and development in mind. If it becomes impossible to agree, a court will arrange the schedule for them.

These schedules may involve children splitting their time in different ways, and it doesn’t have to be an equal split as long as both parents agree or must follow a court arrangement. For example, children may split weekdays and weekends between parents, alternate months, or spend summers with one parent and the school year with another.

A joint custody arrangement can be set up whether parents are divorced or separated. It can even be set up if parents never cohabitated at all.

It’s also worth mentioning joint shared custody and child support. Though the child may spend time in the custody of both parents, child support may still be an obligation depending on the circumstances. If parents have very different incomes and spend different amounts of time with the children, one parent may be asked to pay child support.

Joint Custody vs. Shared Custody: Which One Is Better?

As you can see, these two types of custody are highly related, but it’s worth considering what works best for your family.

Legal custody and physical custody are two separate issues, so you’ll need to make a decision based on your situation:

  • Joint legal custody if you’d like to be involved in major decisions about your child’s upbringing
  • Joint physical custody (“shared custody”) so you can spend time with your child
  • Joint legal and physical custody for the right to do both

Again, some states may define these terms differently. You may find that “joint custody” in your state comprises both physical and legal custody, for example. This is why it’s critical to work with a custody lawyer in your state to understand your next steps.

Act in the Interest of Your Child

While it may be tempting to fight tooth and nail until you find the custody arrangement that benefits you, don’t forget to consider your child’s best interests. When it comes to joint custody vs. shared custody, you may find that one better aligns with the needs of your family as a whole. Working with experienced child custody attorneys can help you understand the nuances and make this decision easier.

If you’re looking for more of the critical life tips you should know, check out our other blog posts for more insights.

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