Does Shared Residential Custody Really Work?

For kids, joint custody, or shared residential custody as it is called in Washington, sounds like the perfect solution for the imperfect situation of divorce. Children in a divorce usually want their family to stay together and are saddened when the reality sets in that they see one parent more than the other. Having joint custody is a way to keep both parents involved in child-rearing issues, and minimize the impact of divorce for kids.

Since 2007, Washington considers one person as the “primary residential parent” and joint custody as a “shared residential schedule.” The court considers the “best interest of the child” in approving parenting plans that split visitation and parental contact.

When Joint Custody Works

For parents, shared residential custody is hard to do unless both parents are very committed to making it work. Some couples who get divorced are so angry with each other that they are not willing or emotionally able to pull it off. Those who can maintain a cordial relationship have a much better chance of making the transition from a family that lives in one home to one that lives in two homes.

As with other types of custody, joint custody must be approved by the court, which will look more favorably on this arrangement if both parents agree to it. The court also assesses whether both parents have a ongoing, strong relationship with the child and adequate parenting skills. As a child grows older the schedule can change to reflect their emotional development and increased independence, so having some built-in flexibility is important.

Three Considerations when Pursuing Shared Residential Custody

In deciding whether shared residential custody is for you, consider the following issues.

First, because joint custody is a big commitment of time, both parties must be realistic when deciding if it will work. If one parent has a job that keeps them on the road all week and makes demands on their night and weekend time, then caring for the kids half the time would be difficult. The answer is to suggest that parents cut back their work schedules to prioritize the kids, but this is obviously not possible in many situations.

Second, divorce involving minor children requires a child support order,. Child support is mainly based on parental income in Washington. Shared residential custody does not necessarily eliminate the need or requirement for child support. However, in Washington, it is assumed that expenses you incur to take care of the child while in your custody are your responsibility, so shared residential custody will generally be a basis for significant reduction of the monthly transfer payment.

Third, agreeing to shared residential custody involves sharing more details of your personal life with your spouse. If your plans conflict with when the kids are visiting, you should discuss in advance the roles of potential third parties (i.e., babysitters, significant others, roommates, family members, etc.) in both the transportation arrangements and supervising role during visitation. If you are not comfortable with your former spouse keeping up with you closely, joint custody might not work out for you.

Assessing Whether Shared Residential Custody Will Work for You

Deciding custody is usually easier (and more cost-effective) at the beginning when custody and child support issues are being discussed. If you think it would work for you, contact Weintraub Law Office for assistance in filing for shared residential custody.