Shared custody or joint custody occurs when a court awards the care and guardianship of a child amidst a divorce to both parents. The court distinguishes between shared legal custody regarding things like activities, education, and religion, and shared physical custody, where the child divides his time between the two parents’ homes.
How Child Custody law works in Northern Ireland
When separated parents can disagree with each other about the arrangements for their children, there are several services available to resolve those issues without the need to go to court, such as family therapy or family mediation services. A family lawyer can get involved if issues remain unresolved to try and prevent the court from having to take on the case. Failing that you can talk through your options and get representation from H McPartlands & Sons throughout the court process.
If you have a specific area of dispute that cannot be resolved such as choosing a child’s educational path, or a religious issue, an application can be made for what is known as a ‘Specific Issue Order’. However, all efforts should be made to try and resolve such issues by agreement. The court can also grant what is known as ‘Prohibited Steps Orders, stopping one party from doing something such as removing a child from their school or moving to a different country.
Considerations in a joint custody case
- Age of the children.
While there’s no hard-and-fast rule, courts generally prefer to maintain consistency, in particular cases with young children. As children grow older, the courts tend to be more willing to consider alternative arrangements.
- Each parent’s living situation.
In some cases, the parent who stays in the family home is granted custody of the children because it allows the children to maintain stability and continuity in their daily lives. Sometimes, the parent with custody is awarded the family home, for the same reason.
The proximity of your home to your spouses may also factor into the court’s decision. The closer you are, the more likely the court will order a time-sharing plan that gives both parents significant time with the kids. The location of their school and their social and sports activities may also matter.
- Each parent’s willingness to support the other’s relationship with the children.
The court will look at your record of cooperating, or lack of, with your spouse about your parenting schedule. The more cooperative the parent is, the better the outcome with the courts.
- Each parent’s relationship with the children before the divorce.
Sometimes parents who have not been involved much in their children’s lives suddenly develop the desire to spend more time with the children once the marriage has ended. In many cases, this desire is sincere, and a judge will respect it, especially if the parent has been dedicated to parenting during a period of separation. The court will take some time to evaluate a parent’s change of heart and ensure that the custody request isn’t being made primarily to win out over the other parent.
- Children’s preferences.
If children are old enough then a judge may talk to them to find out their preferences about custody and visitation. A child may prefer to live with one parent whilst remaining in contact with the other or some children are keen to split their time between their two parents’ homes.
- Continuity and stability.
It is important to establish a co-parenting schedule that suits all parties if possible. If you are sharing custody of your child, then that child needs to know when they are visiting the other parent and then adhere to that routine. Visitation and schedules can change depending on the age of the child and the status of the parent as time moves on, but it is important to agree via positive communication.
- Abuse or neglect.
Obviously, if there’s clear evidence that either parent has abused or neglected the children, the court will limit or terminate that parent’s contact with the children.
Every situation is different, so the court may consider other factors in deciding custody in your case.
For more advice on legal matters regarding child maintenance and custody arrangements please get in touch with one of our expert family lawyers who will be able to provide you will all the support you need.
Related Blog: A guide to child support and child custody options