By Lauren Deal
Deal Law Firm
Following the winter holidays, I frequently see a rise in the number of parents seeking a divorce. In most cases, there isn’t one thing that causes a spouse to decide to end his or her marriage; it’s almost always a combination of factors culminating in long-term unhappiness. But people like to make it through the holidays before announcing their desire to divorce, especially when they have young children. Even when divorce is the best choice, parents struggle with the knowledge that they will spend less time with their children.
When actress Gwyneth Paltrow ended her marriage to her musician husband, Chris Martin, many people laughed at her use of the phrase “conscious uncoupling” to describe her divorce process. Call it what you will, I see more and more cases where husbands and wives both desire to end their marriage on amicable terms.
For many parents, an amicable divorce includes a decision to seek joint physical custody of their minor children. Although it can be given different names, joint physical custody generally means a custody arrangement where children spend an equal amount of time with both parents. Most commonly, the children spend one week at one parent’s house, then the next week at the other parent’s house, and so on, alternating households on a weekly basis.
The benefit of a week-to-week custody arrangement is that both parents spend the same amount of parenting time with their children, keeping fathers, who traditionally lost out on parenting time following a divorce, active and involved in the children’s lives. It also alleviates much of the burden that women were under as “single moms” who only had two or three weekends a month of parenting downtime.
What factors are important in deciding to implement shared custody? It’s essential that the parents are able to put aside their feelings of hurt, anger, and abandonment to focus on the needs of the children. With a week-to-week custody schedule, ex-spouses must be able to communicate and co-parent effectively. It’s also important that both parents are willing to commit to living within a geographic distance where they can both get the children to and from school, doctors’ appointments, extracurricular activities, and the other parent’s home. Finally, both parents should be prepared to set up living space for their children–although they don’t have to have the same living arrangements at both homes, these children do have two homes.
Long before I began practicing family law, I was exposed to joint physical custody when my brother and my former sister-in-law divorced. Since she was a young toddler at the time of her parents’ divorce, my niece doesn’t remember a time when she didn’t have two homes. She is now a high school senior who continues to live week-to-week with her parents. As she prepares to go (not very far) away for college, I can see where her parents’ choice of custody arrangement contributed to her growing into an independent, confident young woman.
If you are contemplating a divorce, and you would like more information on amicable divorce, joint physical custody, or other related topics, call Deal Law Firm at (478) 254-9154 for a consultation.