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What does "shared custody" really mean?

While many Phoenix residents may refer to "sharing" custody of their children, the term "shared custody" actually has no one legal definition. Rather, it can refer to more than one legal concept, and even then, what these legal concepts really entail can come as a surprise.

In a true situation involving shared child custody, parents will have joint legal and joint physical custody. With respect to joint physical custody, this means that the child will live with each parent. In practice, this means that each parent will have the child in his or her home about half the time. However, the division of time is not, and usually cannot be, exactly 50-50.

This sort of shared custody can work very well when two parents are getting along and, obviously, there's no history of abuse or domestic violence. However, sometimes shared custody simply cannot work because of the distance between where the two parents live and their work schedules, among other factors.

Still, parents can consider joint legal custody. Joint legal custody is a more limited version of shared custody, as one parent may well have the children for approximately two-thirds of the time. With respect to joint legal custody, parents must agree on major decisions about their children, such as decisions involving medical care, education and religious or moral upbringing.

While perhaps not to the extent that would be required if parents shared physical custody, the children's parents still need to be able to get along reasonably well in order to pull off joint custody effectively. However, when they do, it can be very healthy for both the parents and the children.

 

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