Shared custody is where both parents have both joint legal custody and joint physical custody of their children. That is, both parents are joint decision makers in their children’s lives, and the children live approximately equal amounts of time with each parent. In essence, the children have two homes, one with each parent.
Shared custody has become more common today. This is because when both parents are loving, caring, and dedicated to their children, then it is often in the children’s best interests to maximize the role of each parent in the children’s lives.
For shared custody to work, it is important that the parents live within a reasonable distance from each other. This is so that the children can move between their parents’ homes with a minimum of interruption in their daily lives, including schooling, extra-curricular activities, and spending time with friends.
Although shared custody works best when the parties are able to communicate, this is not always necessary. There has been an increase lately in what is known as “parallel parenting.” This is essentially a form of shared custody in cases where there is a lot of conflict between the parents. The parallel parenting order sets out in great detail the parenting schedules, as well as the decision-making process and how the parents are to communicate (normally a communications journal).
From what I’ve seen, the main difficulty in arriving at a shared custody arrangement often has nothing to do with the children. It is normally financial — namely, child support. Under the child support guidelines, if one parent spends more than 40% of the time with the children, the courts have a discretion to reduce child support. The courts have interpreted this as an automatic reduction in child support — the only question is how much it should be reduced. The reality is that the reduction of child support can be quite substantial. The fear of losing child support often prevents a parent from agreeing to shared custody, even though it is in the children’s best interests.