Making Joint Custody Work: Advice For Divorced Parents


Experts on divorce and child custody have a way of talking about joint custody – it’s the best and also the worst of both worlds. That might sound strange, but a closer look makes it clear why. 

Specifically, while joint custody can help children develop a healthy relationship with both of their parents, it can be a lot to handle from a logistical standpoint. Even worse, if the adults involved can’t maintain a healthy co-parenting relationship, joint custody can be damaging for all parties. Still, despite all of these challenges, there are plenty of families that manage to make it work.


What does it take to maintain a successful joint custody arrangement? At the end of the day, it depends on the family, but those with personal and professional experience all have their wisdom to share.

Remember: It’s Not About You

The most important thing to remember if you’re a parent struggling with a successful joint custody arrangement is that joint custody is not about you as the adults. It’s about doing what’s best for your children, even if it’s hard. For that reason, you need to be able to set aside some of your personal complaints or ways that the arrangement is inconvenient and do what needs to be done. 

Have A Separate Support System

Accepting that you need to tackle the challenges involved in joint custody for the good of your child doesn’t mean that you can’t ever acknowledge that you’re having a hard time at all. You just can’t express these issues to your children or to your ex. For that, you’ll need to develop a support system. These might be friends or family members or a therapist or they might even be people you’re casually getting to know through a hobby, but they do need to be people who are separate from your past relationship.

Choose Your Arrangement Wisely

Legally speaking, joint physical custody is any arrangement in which children spend at least 35% of their time with each parent. In terms of calendars, that can mean a lot of things, and that’s good news for families trying to reach a joint custody arrangement, says child custody lawyer Rowdy Williams. According to Williams, “There’s no such thing as a one size, fits all custody arrangement. From 2-2-3 plans to the new bird’s nest arrangements that many families are choosing, a good lawyer helps their clients reach an agreement that’s good for the parents and the children.”

As a family, you not only need to choose a custody arrangement that feels comfortable, but it’s important to remember that your arrangement isn’t set in stone. While you do need to adhere to your custody arrangement as it is written, you are also free to revisit it as needed because everyone’s lives will change over time.

Share Custody, Not Responsibility

Shared custody is about a calendar – when the children are physically with each parent. What it’s not about, though, is splitting responsibility. As a parent, your children are always your responsibility, no matter where they are. That means that you need to commit to making important decisions with your ex, attending important events even if they don’t fall on days you have custody, and answering calls from school or the doctor no matter what. Taking responsibility for your children “on an off day” should never be something you hold against your ex as leverage or that you argue about. These things are always your responsibility.

There are always ways around the hardships of joint custody – specifically, giving up custody and your say in your child’s life – but most parents don’t want to go that route, and very few children benefit from this. Instead, it is a sign of maturity and commitment to put in the effort involved in joint custody, and your children deserve nothing less.