As you venture into a child custody legal dispute, you are going to hear and be asked to agree to many terms, labels, and orders that have words and phrases you need to clearly understand. It is for this reason alone that I think you should always have an attorney and never agree or represent yourself in court. Even if you think you know what you want, does the label you give it truly represent the truth? Because the ugly reality is that what you think something means may indeed not be at all what it means in a court document.
Take for example the question I am proposing to you today: What is Joint Custody?
a. A parenting agreement in which both parents share time together with their children.
b. A parenting agreement from which both parents equally influence important decisions in the child’s upbringing, and are equal in deciding the health and well-being of the child, religious upbringing, education and future marriage arrangements.
c. A custody arrangement from which both parents are involved in the child’s life and have “significant periods” and “frequent and continuous contact” of time with their children.
d. A great label added to orders but perhaps has no bearing on actual time each parent spends with their children and may have no bearings on child support.
e. Words that could appear in custody orders that may loosely be exchanged with “joint legal custody,” “joint physical custody,” “shared parenting,” “joint managing conservator,” and “possessory conservator” and still may give custody to one parent and full child support and visitation such as 1st, 3rd, & 5th weekends with the children to the other parent.
Have you figured out the correct answer? Read the list again. Don’t worry, I’ll wait.
The correct answer is any one of them, or all of the above. “How can that be?” you may ask. “Don’t answers ‘a’ & ‘e’ contradict themselves?” Or are you calling “foul ball,” because of course Wikipedia, the Internet Bible, gives this definition:
“Joint custody is a court order whereby custody of a child is awarded to both parties. In joint custody both parents are custodial parents and neither parent is a non-custodial parent, or, in other words, the child has two custodial parents. In the United States, many states recognize two forms of joint custody, which include joint physical custody (called also “shared custody” or “shared placement”) and joint legal custody. In joint physical custody, the actual lodging and care of the child is shared according to a court-ordered custody schedule. In joint legal custody, both parents share the ability to have access to their children’s records, such as educational records, health records, and other records.”
In truth, the terms and words used in orders and child custody cases vary not only from country to country, but they also vary GREATLY from state to state. Here in Texas, just about every parent is given “joint managing conservatorship,” which has little bearing on access and possession of your children. Yes, I agree with what is written online in defining most of the different types of custody arrangements. In future posts we’ll define those further.
However commonly used custody terms do NOT adhere to a gold definition standard. My final orders are called “Orders Adjudicating Parentage” and are filled with language of “joint custody.” It’s not until you get to about page 17 that you realize my Ex is supposed to pay bi-weekly child support and as the she has access and possession of our daughter on 1st, 3rd, & 5th weekends. In court, just because it is labeled as such, doesn’t mean the tug-of-war bow is actually located in the middle.
What does Joint Custody look like in your orders? What does Joint Custody mean to you?
Fred Campos is father to three and primary custodian to his daughter Caitlyn from a previous relationship. Image: Pete via Flickr.