Can Child Custody be 50/50?
by Unbundled Legal Help
Whether you are going through a breakup or divorce, splitting up when there is a child involved creates all types of uncertainties and stress. In the case that both parents are vying for custody, it is common to wonder if child custody can be 50/50.
Yes, child custody can be split 50/50. The legal term for this is “joint custody”. In general, married couples naturally have 50/50 custody until a judge rules otherwise. Most states tend to prefer joint custody over sole custody (unless there are special circumstances). Learn more about 50/50 joint custody below.
What is Joint Custody?
Joint custody means the sharing of custody between two parents. Essentially, both parents actively participate in the child’s upbringing. The term “joint custody” can refer to physical and/or legal custody.
Joint physical custody means that the child will split their time equally between each parent’s home. Many variations of schedules can be created to accommodate the child’s needs as well as the parent’s schedule.
Joint legal custody refers to the parents having equal say in how the child is raised and important decisions that impact a child’s life (i.e. religion, education, etc.). It is important to note that parents can share legal custody while one parent has sole physical custody.
How to Decide if Joint Custody Is Best For Your Child
Data suggests that children benefit from spending an equal amount of time with their parents. While joint custody is not always easy to figure out or manage, it is seen as the best-case scenario for divorcing parents in most situations. Parents (and judges) most often decide on 50/50 custody when the following conditions are met.
- The parents live in close proximity to each other
- The parents have developed a good relationship where they can effectively communicate
- The child can physically and mentally handle the changing residence often
- Both parents are focused on the best interest of their child
- 50/50 joint custody in the child’s best interest
Though joint custody is the preferred route for many family courts across the nation, there are some circumstances that call for other types of custody. Some of those include:
- One parent is physically or emotionally abusive
- The other parent has been mostly absent from the child's life
- A child with physical or mental conditions that only one parent is equipped to handle
- Busy work schedules that require many hours and frequent travel
- Lack of safe environment at one parent’s home
- Lack of stability
Figuring out the right type of custody to pursue can be especially difficult in disputed child custody cases. Contact a child custody lawyer to discuss the details of your case and whether or not joint custody is in you and your child’s best interest.
Types of Joint Custody Schedules
Joint custody can take many forms. There is no “one size fits all” formula. Some of the most common types of joint custody schedules include:
- Alternating Weeks: The child spends one week with a parent and the next week with the other.
- Two Weeks: The child alternates where they live every two weeks
- 3-4-4-3 Schedule: The child spends three days with one parent, four days with the other. Then the child spends four days with the initial parents and the following three with the other.
- 2-2-5-5 Schedule: This schedule has the child spending two days (alternating between parents) and then five days alternating.
- 2-2 Schedule: The child changes residence every two days.
The higher the frequency of the moves, the more connected and physically close parents typically must be. In general, children require a sense of stability and routine. So, judges are more likely to approve plans that adequately address a child’s developmental needs.
Does My State Have a Preference For Joint Custody?
Each state is different. For the most part, states have a preference for joint custody. Depending on the age and maturity of the child, the child's wishes can be heavily considered in child custody cases.
Conduct independent research or rely on the knowledge of your child custody lawyer for your states rules, procedures, and historical precedence.
How Can I File For Joint Custody?
Filing for joint custody is sometimes necessary and other times, not so much. The process of filing for joint custody can differ between married parents and unmarried parents. Learn more about each below.
For Divorcing Parents
In general, divorcing parents have natural 50/50 physical and legal custody rights. Since divorce cases can sometimes take months to conclude, judges can make temporary custody orders that last until a final ruling has been made. These are generally issued when one parent is deemed unfit to share custody.
For Unmarried Parents
Before custody can be determined and legally enforced between unmarried parents, paternity must be established. Some states only require an acknowledgment of paternity, other states require a DNA test. Check with your child custody lawyer to determine what is required to prove paternity in your state.
How is Child Support Calculated in 50/50 Custody?
There are slight variations between states with regard to how child support is calculated in 50/50 custody cases. Many factors are taken into consideration when a judge calculates child support. Factors that most influence a family court’s decision can include:
- The income of both parents
- How much time a child spends at each residence
- Reviews of previous tax statements
- Provisions for insurance (health, dental, life)
- The cost of childcare
- Other expenses necessary for raising a child
States typically follow a flat rate model or an income-shares model. In the flat-rate model, one parent is the primary custodial parent and the other parent pays a specific percentage of their income (even in 50/50 joint custody cases).
The income-shares model seeks to provide children with the same level of lifestyle that they enjoyed before the divorce or separation. This can include equalizing the income between the two households.
What if 50/50 Custody Doesn’t Work, Can it Be Changed?
50/50 child custody doesn't always work out the way that it was intended to. Fortunately, the family court offers a way to change child custody orders. If you are dissatisfied with the current joint child custody agreement that you have with your co-parent, you can request a modification of child custody.
Changes can be requested anytime after a final order of child custody has been made. However, most judges prefer parents to wait for 1 - 2 years after the original custody order has been made. Exceptions are made in extraordinary situations.
Judges generally require parents requesting a modification of child custody to prove that there has been a substantial change in circumstance (since the original ruling) and the changes requested are in the child’s best interest. Learn more about each below.
Substantial Change in Circumstance
In most cases, judges require parents requesting a modification of child custody to prove there has been a substantial change in circumstances. Examples of permissible changes can include:
- One parent moving out-of-state
- A change in the physical or mental health of a parent
- Physical, emotional, or sexual abuse
- Educational needs of the child
- Deterioration of the parent/child relationship
- Lack of resources
Best Interest of The Child
Even if a family court agrees that there has been a substantial change in circumstance, the changes that you request must be in the child’s best interest. All judges make final child custody decisions based on what’s in the best interest of the child. In contentious custody hearings, it is recommended that you hire a child custody lawyer.
What if I Don’t Want 50/50 Custody?
In some cases, a parent does not believe that the other parent should share custody with them. This could be for many reasons such as immaturity, lack of a relationship with their child, insecure living situation, past abuse, etc.
While you may be sure that they are not fit to share custodial rights, proving that to a family court judge isn’t as easy as it seems. Many states have a preference for joint custody. Parents that seek sole-custody must present compelling evidence of the other parent’s custodial short-comings.
Do We Need to go to Court For 50/50 Custody?
Some families make the decision to forgo the legal process and simply make an agreement between themselves instead of going to court. While this is possible, it is not typically recommended. Custody agreements that have not been approved by a judge cannot be legally enforced.
In the event that there are disagreements or a parent doesn’t fulfill their duty, the court will have no way of ruling on the case. This can be frustrating for you and ultimately have a negative impact on your child.
How Can a Child Custody Lawyer Help?
A child custody lawyer can be helpful during a contentious custody battle as well as cases in which parents agree on 50/50 joint custody. Family attorneys help to file paperwork, negotiate, draft parental plans, represent you in court, etc.
The benefits of hiring a child custody attorney are clear, but what’s also clear to many is the high cost of hiring a lawyer. Most family lawyers charge $3k - $5k upfront and an additional $300 - $500 per hour on top of that. Fortunately, there are ways to save money.
Parents that can come to an agreement and draft a child custody plan together typically spend less time in court, less time negotiating, and by virtue, less money on legal fees. Additionally, you can save thousands of dollars in upfront fees by taking care of some parts of your case yourself and hiring an unbundled attorney to handle the rest. Learn more below.
Hire an Access Legal Unbundled Lawyer Today
Attorneys with traditional fee structures often cost so much because they handle every aspect of your case. With unbundled legal services offered by Access Legal, you can hire a child custody lawyer to take care of the more complex parts of your case (i.e. negotiations, document review, drafting documents, etc.) while you handle the rest.
Fees for unbundled legal services start as low as $500 - $1500. If your case is a good fit to be unbundled, you will not have to worry about thousands of dollars in upfront fees. If it is not, our network of unbundled family law attorneys also offers full-representation at an affordable rate.
Complete an online request. Get connected to an unbundled attorney. Save money on your child custody legal fees today.