Negotiating custody in the event of a divorce or separation is typically difficult regardless of the option selected. From sole to joint custody, decisions can leave parents counting the hours and minutes to ensure they get the designated amount of time with their children. However, a growing number of states are considering a third option: shared parenting.
Shared parenting is a custody approach in which parents assume equal responsibility for decision-making regarding the child, and both parents are the “residential” parent for the child. While these principles may sound similar to joint custody, there are several key differences.
Division of responsibilities—In a joint custody scenario, responsibilities are divided between the parents. This could include decisions surrounding healthcare measures, schooling, and educational welfare. It would be possible for one parent to have physical custody of a child, yet not retain the primary decision-making the other parent possesses.
Division of time—In a shared parenting scenario, parents are encouraged to divide their child’s time as equitably as possible. Previously, a court would assign one parent primary physical custody to avoid disruptions in the child’s life. By agreeing to shared parenting, the parents are signifying they will work toward an equitable division of time that is best for their child.
While the shared parenting custody agreement may not work for every family, several states are moving toward making shared parenting the first-line or most-recommended custody option. Some examples include:
- The Connecticut General Assembly formed a task force in 2014 to determine if shared custody should be considered the first and best choice for custody arrangements.
- South Dakota’s House of Representatives recently passed Senate Bill 74 (SB74), which provides support for the “consideration of joint physical custody of a minor.” South Dakota Governor Dennis Daugaard will now consider the bill.
- Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick created a task force in February 2014 to consider revisions to state laws regarding child custody. The task force consists of elected officials, lawyers, psychologists, parents, and governor’s office representatives. Several bills have been previously filed in the state that would make shared parenting the preferred “presumption” or choice when deciding custody agreements.
Shared parenting is more than a definitive legal term—it also represents a spirit of agreement to working toward a child’s best interest. Shared parenting was created so parents would not haggle or pressure the other parent over time. The shared parenting approach also leaves more of the decision-making to the individual parents instead of the courts having to control each detail.
Reviewed by Dr. Kristie Rivers, September 2020
- Shared parenting is a custody approach that involves the parents sharing decision-making responsibilities for a child and/or as equitable a division of physical custody as possible.
- Many state governments are forming task forces and considering legislation that would advocate for more equitable custody agreements, if appropriate for the family situation.