As described in Chapter 1, joint physical custody means that the physical residence of the child is shared by both parents almost equally. Where the child lives primarily with one parent and has visitation (now called parenting time) with the other, generally, the parent with whom the child primarily lives will have primary physical custody, with visitation to the other parent. Joint physical custody (approximately 50/50) works best if parents live relatively near to each other, as it lessens the stress on children and allows them to maintain a somewhat normal routine.
Joint physical custody has the advantages of assuring that children continue their contact and involvement with both parents, and alleviating some of the burdens of parenting for each parent. There are, of course, disadvantages, which include shuttling children around, negative effects on children in the event of parental non-cooperation or ill-will, and the expense of maintaining two homes for the children. As your child grows, his needs may change as well. It is not beneficial to change the schedule of a baby under 2 years of age often, yet when a child is 9 or 10, the situation is much different.
Courts generally will not hesitate to award sole physical custody to one parent if the other parent is deemed unfit. Parents are often deemed unfit if there is domestic violence, alcohol or drug dependency, a boyfriend or girlfriend who is unfit, or any child abuse, neglect or criminal behavior. It is understandable that there may be animosity between you and your ex-spouse, but it’s best not to seek sole custody just because you want your children with you. Always consider what is in the child?s best interests. It is perfectly fine to decide whatever you and your partner think is best for your children. Joint physical custody is not always a good idea, especially when the child is an infant or toddler.
Do not let your children become your battleground. If you and your spouse are good parents, everything can be worked out. These admonishments do not apply to the parents who find themselves in the ugly predicament dealing with domestic violence, child abuse, drug abuse or mental disorders. Those parents may need to fight to protect their children. This book and these comments are not directed to those tragic situations. Help can be found at our website, through an attorney, at a domestic violence website or through legal aid for those difficult, contested cases.