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Joint custody is a form of child custody pursuant to which custody rights are awarded to both parents. Joint custody may refer to joint physical custody, joint legal custody, or both combined.

In joint legal custody, both parents of a child share major decision making regarding for example education, medical care and religious upbringing. In joint physical custody, also called shared parenting or shared residency, the child spends equal or close to equal amount of time with both parents.

After a divorce or separation, parents may have joint physical custody as well as joint legal custody of their children, or commonly, they may have joint legal custody while one parent has sole physical custody, or rarely, they may have joint physical custody while one parent have sole legal custody.[1][2][3]

The opposite of joint physical custody is sole custody, where the child primarily lives with one parent while the other parent may have visitation rights to regularly see his or her child. Joint physical custody is different from split custody, where some siblings live with one parent while other siblings live with the other parent.



In England, prior to the nineteenth century, common law considered children to be the property of their father.[4][5] However, the economic and social changes that occurred during the nineteenth century led to a shift in ideas about the dynamics of the family.[4] Industrialization separated the home and the workplace, keeping fathers away from their children in order to earn wages and provide for their family.[4] Conversely, mothers were expected to stay in the home and care for the household and the children.[4] Important social changes such as women's suffrage and child development theories allowed for ideas surrounding the importance of maternal care.[4]

Joint legal custodyEdit

In joint legal custody, both parents share decision-making rights with regard to matters that may have a significant impact on their children's lives, such as where a child should attend school, the choice of a primary care physician or therapist for the child, and medical treatments.[6] Both parents also have the ability right access to their children's records, such as educational records, health records, and other records.[7] Under sole physical custody arrangements, joint legal custody has been found to have beneficial effects on children compared to sole legal custody.[8]

Joint physical custodyEdit

In joint physical custody, the child lives an equal amount of time with both parents or for considerable amount of time with each parent.[9] Typically, the family court issues a parenting schedule that defines the time that the time will spend with each parent.[10]

The percentage of joint physical versus sole physical custody varies between countries. In a comparative survey of from 2005/06, covering children ages 11 to 15, it was highest in Sweden with 17% and lowest in Turkey and the Ukraine with only 1%.[11]

Compared to sole physical custody, studies have shown that a joint physical custody arrangement is better for children across a wide range of outcomes, including lower levels of depression, anxiety, and dissatisfaction; lower aggression; reduced alcohol and substance abuse; better cognitive development and school performance; better physical health; lower smoking rates; and stronger relationships with mothers, fathers, step-parents, and grandparents. These results also hold in studies that adjust for socio-economic factors.[12][13]


Joint custody is not legally recognized in Japan.[14] Japanese courts favor granting custody to a primary caregiver,[15] and nearly always award custody to the parent who is in possession of the children, even in the aftermath of parental kidnapping.[16] Many Japanese parents believe that recognition of joint custody rights will reduce the problem of parental kidnapping and improve parent-child relationships following a custody case.[16]


In a 2005/06 survey, about 6 percent of Spanish children ages 11 to 15 lived in a joint physical custody arrangement versus sole physical custody.[11]

Joint physical custody was introduced into Spanish law in 2005, subject to agreement by both parents. Some regions, such as Aragon and Catalonia, have subsequently passed laws that makes it the preferred option.[17]

United KingdomEdit

In the United Kingdom in 2005/06, about 7 percent of 11-15 year old children lived in a joint physical versus sole physical custody arrangement.[11]

United StatesEdit

In the United States, joint legal custody is common while joint physical custody is rare.[12] According to a 2005/06 survey, about 5 percent of American children ages 11 to 15 lived in a joint physical custody arrangement versus sole physical custody.[11] Kentucky is the only state with a legal rebuttable presumption in favor of joint physical custody.[18][19]


  1. ^ "Joint Custody Definition". Duhaime's Law Dictionary.
  2. ^ See, e.g., "Georgia Code Title 19. Domestic Relations § 19-9-6". Findlaw. Thomson Reuters. Retrieved 29 November 2017.
  3. ^ Larson, Aaron (11 October 2016). "What is Child Custody". ExpertLaw. Retrieved 2 October 2017.
  4. ^ a b c d e Jay Folberg (23 August 1991). Joint Custody and Shared Parenting. Guilford Press. pp. 4–5. ISBN 978-0-89862-481-6. Retrieved 18 October 2011.
  5. ^ Margorie Louise Engel; Diana Delhi Gould (1 January 1992). Divorce Decisions Workbook: A Planning and Action Guide to the Practical Side of Divorce. McGraw-Hill Professional. pp. 107–108. ISBN 978-0-07-019571-4. Retrieved 19 October 2011.
  6. ^ See, e.g., "Basics of Custody & Visitation Orders". California Courts. Retrieved 2 October 2017.
  7. ^ Robert E. Emery (1999). Marriage, Divorce, and Children's Adjustment. SAGE. pp. 79–124. ISBN 978-0-7619-0252-2. Retrieved 2 November 2011.
  8. ^ Gunnoe ML, Braver SL. The effects of joint legal custody on mothers, fathers, and children, controlling for factors that predispose a sole maternal vs. joint legal award. Law and Human Behavior, 2001, 25:25–43.
  9. ^ Kaplan PMBR (7 July 2009). Kaplan PMBR FINALS: Family Law: Core Concepts and Key Questions. Kaplan Publishing. pp. 22–23. ISBN 978-1-60714-098-6. Retrieved 15 October 2011.
  10. ^ See, e.g., Oregon State Legislature (1997). "ORS 107.102 Parenting plan". Retrieved 27 September 2011.
  11. ^ a b c d Bjarnason T, Arnarsson AA. Joint Physical Custody and Communication with Parents: A Cross-National Study of Children in 36 Western Countries, Journal of Comparative Family Studies, 2011, 42:871-890.
  12. ^ a b Sanford L. Braver and Michael E. Lamb, Shared Parenting After Parental Separation: The Views of 12 Experts, Journal of Divorce & Remarriage, April 2018
  13. ^ Linda Nielsen (June 20, 2017). "10 Surprising Findings on Shared Parenting After Divorce or Separation". Institute for Family Studies.
  14. ^ "As Japan moves toward recognizing joint custody, a father nourishes hope for reunion". Japan Subculture Research Center. 8 August 2013. Retrieved 2 October 2017.
  15. ^ Matsutani, Minoru (10 October 2009). "Custody laws force parents to extremes". The Japan Times. Retrieved 2 October 2017.
  16. ^ a b Kikuchi, Daisuke (5 May 2017). "Parental abduction victims hold rally to push for joint custody rights". The Japan Times. Retrieved 2 October 2017.
  17. ^ Lendoiro, Gema (28 February 2015). "Todo lo que debes saber sobre la custodia compartida" [Everything you should know about joint custody] (in Spanish). Diario ABC.
  18. ^ Jason Petrie, Kentucky House Bill 528, LegiScan, 2018.
  19. ^ Shared parenting law long overdue, The Daily Independent, August 28, 2018.

See alsoEdit