What is joint custody?
Joint custody is known by many names including shared custody and shared residence, but the official term is joint residence. Joint residence refers to an agreement that a child lives with both parents after a separation. The common assumption is that time is split either 50/50 or the child lives with one parent during the week and the other on the weekend. This is not the case; the division of time can be completely determined by the parents or the courts.
How is joint custody decided?
If you and your ex-partner can agree on the terms of your joint residence the process is relatively simple. You don't need to make your agreement legally binding, but this would make it easier for your ex to change the circumstance if they change their mind. If you want to make it legally binding you will need to see a solicitor, who can draft a Residence Order for you. The Residence Order will then need to be approved by the court.
If you and your ex cannot agree, you will need to ask the court to decide for you. The main focus of the court will always be the best interests for the child, regardless of what the parents want. The court will consider how far parents live away from school, friends and each other before making their decision. For example, if one parent lives very far away from the child's school it is unlikely they will have custody during the week as it is not viable. However, they have more time in the holidays instead.
The court will also consider:
- The child's wishes and feelings. These will be given more consideration the older the child is
- The child's physical, emotional and educational needs
- The likely effect of a change of circumstances on your child
- The child's age, sex and background including cultural, religious or disability needs
- If the child has suffered harm or is at risk of suffering harm
- The parents' capabilities with regard to the child's needs
- The range of powers available to the court.
How does maintenance work with joint custody?
If there is an equal share of residence between the parents then no child maintenance is payable, irrespective of either parent's income. If the share is not equal, the parent with majority share of residence may be entitled to maintenance from the other parent. This is to cover the costs of living expenses. The amount of maintenance takes depends on the number of nights spent with each parent, whether you have any other children, each parent's income and other contribution factors.
The Child Maintenance Service mostly deals with child maintenance and generally, the court only gets involved if the parent with the minor share has an income over £156,000 per annum. If the matter is taken to court, you will need the help of a solicitor to help provide proof of time spent with your child and any expenses incurred such as clothing, food and other bills.
If you're not sure what your rights might be regarding to joint custody, would like to fight for joint residency, or require financial guidance regarding maintenance payments, please contact us in London (West Drayton) on 01895 449288 or in Hertfordshire (St Albans) on 01727 840900 or by email via our contact page.