In a perfect world, all divorced families would coexist in a separate but equal arrangement known as joint custody. However, a joint custody plan is highly impractical for many families, based on the demands placed on each parent by his or her job, personal obligations, financial constraints, and perhaps even society. There's also an arrangement known as “shared custody”, in which one parents is designated as the primary custodian, but the other parent can still have the children stay overnight for 2 or more nights per week. If you want be real specific, shared custody entitles a parent to 28% to 50% of overnight visits per week with the children. These figures come from the New Jersey Child Support Guidelines, since child support would need to be adjusted based on the number of days and nights that each parent has the children.
While shared custody has been gaining in popularity, primary custody is still the preferred arrangement for most families. Deciding on the primary custodian is based on numerous factors, but the division of parenting responsibilities, i.e., who does what for the children, has traditionally been the primary consideration. In previous generations, mothers have had the advantage in custody cases since more women than men stayed home to raise the children. Even in families where both parents worked, women tended to take on more of the day-to-day child rearing responsibilities.
This generation, however, mostly consists of families in which both parents work full-time. Another notable change is the number of fathers who choose to stay home after the birth of a baby, typically in families where the mother is the main bread earner. More parents are also starting to work from home on a part or full time basis, thanks to the technological advances such as cloud applications. These dynamics present challenges for family court judges, who can no longer rely on the “who does more” ‘model. It also gives rise to the question of whether the primary custody model is even valid in cases where both parents work out of the home on a full-time basis.
In truth, primary custody is still very relevant, even with the the growing popularity of shared custody arrangements. Remember, judges make their final decision based on what's best for the children. Consideration of who was more in charge of the child care responsibilities was not about rewarding the parent who did more, but rather, an issue of preserving the children's current way of life. Thus, it may be determined that it's in the children's best interest to remain in one household for most of the week, perhaps even most of the month or year. Such realizations may be hard to accept, but the courts encourage parents to keep an open mind, and to work out an arrangement through private methods such as mediation, whenever possible. For more information on your custody rights and legal options, please speak with the family law attorneys of Villani & DeLuca, P.C.