In legal terminology, shared parenting refers to a custody agreement in which both parents are assigned equal or significant custodial duties. It is sometimes referred to as joint custody or joint parenting. In most regions, a judge may choose to order shared parenting if he or she feels that it is in the best interests of the children and if both parents request the arrangement.
Shared parenting allows both parents to remain as active custodians for their children. They may share physical custody as well as financial responsibility, and engage in joint decision-making regarding any minor children. While this situation is believed by some to prevent feelings of abandonment by one parent in children, it can also become a nightmare if not properly managed. Parents who refuse to stop their own relationship wars may, directly or indirectly, make the children feel caught in the middle of a war for which they are at fault. Many family therapists and court officials recommend taking serious time to consider and work out the rules of shared parenting before applying for a custody decree, in order to help avoid future conflicts.
There are several factors that may influence a judge's decision on allowing shared custody. These may include estimations on his or her part of the stability of the relationship between the divorcing spouses, the desire of the children, and any perceived threat of abuse, neglect, or parental kidnapping. Financial ability of both parents to maintain adequate care for the children may also be a primary consideration. Geography may also play a part in the determination; if parents live in separate states, the court may decide it would be too disruptive to the a child's schooling and home life to divide custody and parenting responsibilities equally.
Parents seeking shared custody are often required to submit detailed descriptions of how they want parenting responsibilities divided. Not all shared parenting agreements mean that each parent gets exactly half of all physical custody and responsibilities; often, shared parenting agreements divide up responsibilities as they seem fair and reasonable to both parties. It is recommended that these agreements be worked out as best as possible before submitting them to the court for review; evidence of serious conflicts between parental wishes may suggest to the judge that shared custody is not the best plan for the child or children involved. Some parents may involve a mediator or even family therapist to help hammer out agreements that are acceptable to all parties in order to involve wrangling in front of the court.