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What's the Difference Between Split Custody and Joint Custody?

When parents divorce, often the most contentious issue concerns the right to raise the children. Courts will generally look to what is in the best interest of the child. Usually, a court will not want to exclude one parent from custody unless there are extenuating circumstances, such as allegations of abuse, drug or alcohol abuse, or other factors that create an unfit environment to raise a child.

When divorced parents decide to share custody of the children, there are a few different approaches. Joint custody of a child typically involves both parents sharing legal custody (the decision making authority) as well as physical custody (having the child live under their roof). But what's the difference between joint custody and split custody?

Split Custody Splits Physical Custody of Multiple Children

When parents or a court decide that the children would be better served by splitting them between both parents (i.e. sibling A goes with mom and sibling B goes with dad), this is commonly referred to as "split custody."

These custody arrangements are frowned upon. However, they tend to take into account school and extracurricular schedules for the children, the work schedules of parents, as well as the relationships that each parent has to each child. Sometimes one parent's schedule will only work with one of the children's schedules, or will live closer to the one child's school, but not the other.

Joint Legal Custody Shares the Decision Making Process

Often, parents will recognize that they are not able to provide as good of an environment as their former spouse, or simply don't have time. For the benefit of their child, the parent will give up physical custody. However, a parent can still retain joint legal custody, which allows them to have an equal say in their child's major life decisions, such as:

  • Medical care
  • Primary education
  • Extracurricular activities
  • Employment (while still a minor)
  • Obtaining a drivers license

With the state of modern technology, staying connected and being involved, even if a parent can't live with their child, is easier than it has ever been.

If you need help figuring out what type of custody agreement works best for your situation, contact an experienced family lawyer.

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