Joint Physical Care

By: Fisher Law | 06 Feb

What is “joint physical care?” I am often asked this question by potential clients at initial consultations involving child custody matters.

Well, technically speaking, it means “an award of physical care of a minor child to both joint legal custodial parents under which both parents have rights and responsibilities toward the child including, but not limited to, shared parenting time with the child, maintaining homes for the child, providing routine care for the child and under which neither parent has physical care rights superior to those of the other parent.”

To simplify, most people refer to joint physical care or shared physical care as a “50/50” or “equal time” arrangement, under which each child or children spend an approximate equal amount of time per week or specified time period with each parent. And don’t forget, courts typically measure time in terms of the number of overnights each child spends with each parent in a given amount of time.

As you can probably imagine, there is important case law delineating what is important and proper for judges to consider when evaluating a case for joint physical care. Some of these considerations are as follows:

One important factor to consider in determining whether joint physical care is in the child’s best interest is the ability of spouses to communicate and show mutual respect. If the parents constantly bicker and try to cut down the other, joint physical care is probably not going to be in the child’s best interest. Essentially, a parent who can “put the child first” and not hold grudges against the other is the best candidate. A high degree of conflict between the parents is usually a death blow to hopes of successfully advocating for joint physical care.

A second important consideration for courts is have both parents both contributed substantially and fairly equally to the “hands-on” daily requirements of raising a child. For instance, who does the baths? Who cooks? Who stays home with the child when sick, etc.? If one parent was a “stay-at-home” mom or dad for a significant period of time, and the other parent worked 70 hours per week during this same time period, this is probably not a realistic joint physical care situation.

A third important factor in determining whether joint physical care is in the best interest of the children, particularly when there is a turbulent past relationship between the parents, is the degree to which the parents are in general agreement about their approach to daily matters. Is one parent in support of home-schooling a child? Does one parent put the child to be at 8:30 and the other has no set bedtime? Fundamental differences regarding daily routines are not typically conducive to an effective joint physical care parenting arrangement.

Finally, geographic distance usually makes joint physical care unworkable and/or impractical. How can both parents spend roughly an equal amount of parenting time with a child when they live 800 miles apart? Or even 100 miles apart for that matter? The logistics just do not work.

I hope this blog has been helpful in understanding the theories behind joint physical care and when it is appropriate in a contested case. Contact Fisher Law Firm today at 515-222-1400 if you have any additional questions about this topic or anything else.