What Is Shared Custody? - Zukerman Law

What Is Shared Custody?

When parents decide to separate or divorce, deciding who will take care of their children is one of their biggest decisions. While sole custody used to be the norm, shared custody arrangements are becoming increasingly common. Under a shared custody agreement, both parents have significant periods of physical custody of the child and participate in major decision-making. 

This arrangement can have immense benefits for children, allowing them to maintain strong bonds with both parents. However, shared custody also comes with unique challenges that require careful consideration and compromise from parents. In this post, we will explore what shared custody entails and its critical factors for parents to weigh when deciding if it is the right arrangement for their family. Thoughtfully developing a shared custody plan can foster healthier outcomes for kids during a difficult transition. The insights provided here aim to help parents make the most informed choice to meet the needs of their children.

Various Aspects of Shared Custody Explained

Various Aspects of Shared Custody Explained

Shared custody, also known as joint physical custody, encompasses several other terms like shared parenting and shared residential custody. In this arrangement, both parents spend significant time with their children and jointly make important decisions regarding education, activities, religion, and healthcare.

Financially, parents in shared custody typically share expenses equally, as the child spends about the same amount of time with each parent. This often leads to the assumption that child support payments are not necessary. However, time-sharing doesn’t always equal savings, as family law usually ensures that each parent spends at least 40% of their time with the children.

Moreover, child custody is broadly classified into legal and physical custody, with shared custody falling under the physical category.

Understanding Parenting Orders

Understanding Parenting Orders

Parenting orders, issued by judges in place of traditional custody awards, cover a wide range of child-rearing aspects beyond just decision-making and parenting time. They can specify rules about taking children on vacations out of the province, outline conditions for the children’s contact with third parties like grandparents, and detail how children will communicate with one parent while they’re with the other. Importantly, these orders also include guidelines for resolving disputes, recognizing that disagreements are inevitable. Having a resolution plan, whether it involves mediation or another method, is crucial and often recommended by experienced lawyers.

Different Forms of Decision-Making Responsibility in Parenting Orders

Parenting orders now offer varied approaches to decision-making responsibility regarding a child’s upbringing. This responsibility encompasses decisions about health care, education, religious upbringing, home language, and extracurricular activities.

There are several types of decision-making structures:

  • Joint Decision-Making: This requires both parents to consult and agree on decisions, ensuring cooperative parenting.
  • Sole Decision-Making: In rare cases, one parent may have the authority to make all decisions independently.
  • Divided or Parallel Decision-Making: Responsibilities are split; for instance, one parent might decide on educational matters while the other handles health care decisions. This can depend on factors like who pays for education or who usually takes the child to the doctor.
  • Specific Decision Areas: Parenting orders can also include specific areas, such as rules around cell phones and social media usage.

The judge determines the most suitable decision-making arrangement based on the children’s best interests, the parents’ cooperation level, and any special circumstances, including power imbalances and safety concerns.

Key Points on Parenting Time

Key Points on Parenting Time

Parenting time, as defined in parenting orders, is the period a child spends in the care of a parent, usually in their home. This time allows the parent to make everyday decisions for the child, like bedtimes and entertainment choices.

Courts often prefer arrangements where each parent has at least 41% of parenting time, aiming for a balance as close to 50/50 as possible. If a child spends more than 60% of their time with one parent, that parent has the majority of parenting time, which requires both parents to live nearby and communicate effectively.

The order should detail the division of days between parents, including provisions for holidays, birthdays, the child’s activities, and arrangements for pick-ups and drop-offs.


Understanding the Relationship Between Parenting Time and Child Support

When a parent has the most parenting time (more than 60% with the child), the other parent pays child support per Canada’s federal guidelines. The amount can be adjusted in divorce settlements but can’t be less than the guidelines.

Child support negotiation can be more complex for parents with variable incomes, such as the self-employed or business owners. However, for those with regular paychecks, child support is calculated based on income, province of residence, and number of children supported.

The child support calculation changes if a parent has at least 41% parenting time. The court determines what each parent would pay under a majority parenting time scenario. The lower amount is then subtracted from the higher amount, and the parent with the higher income pays the difference to the other parent.