Joint and rotating custody: What to consider

Happy family in white on a mountainFlorida courts are considering joint and rotating custody in more and more divorce cases and there is even talk about a presumption that children should spend 50 percent of their time with each parent.

There are certainly arguments in favor of this position, and I am not one to argue against it. However, there are numerous factors which should be considered to determine whether it will be feasible. These factors include:

1. Two Households: Both Alike and in Proximity: In order to rotate time with children, both parents should, ideally, live in the same neighborhood, or, at least, in reasonable proximity to one another. This will avoid long commutes not just for the parents, but also for the children. This may not be economically feasible for some parents.

2. No living out of a suitcase: Judges who consider and ultimately award joint and rotating custody wish to avoid a situation where the children must pack a bag every few days or at the end of each week. In order for the rotating schedule to work, children need to have two sets of everything – school textbooks, clothing, toiletries, and medications, etc. There will be the occasional transport of items from one household to another, but generally speaking, the children need to have a separate set of all essentials available at each household. Again, this may not be economically feasible for both parents.

3. Schedule permitting: Not only must each parent have the ability to coordinate their schedule around their children’s school schedule, each parent must be able to accommodate the extracurricular activities that go along with the schedule. This is not an easy task and not always possible, as many work schedules do not allow for this level of flexibility.

4. Living in harmony: While the parties do not have to be completely amicable, it would be difficult to convince a judge that they could pull off this schedule if there is a high level of discord between them. Couples who are at odds and who have litigated numerous issues during their divorce often do not make suitable candidates for joint custody, which requires communication and cooperation between the two parties.

When representing a client who is insistent upon joint custody, I often ask about the client’s schedule and why this concept is so important. In many instances, the concern is about quality time with the children and not losing touch with them. However, there are other ways to accomplish this goal that do not require a rotating time-sharing arrangement. Parties are often unaware that they are both entitled to attend after-school and extracurricular events, regardless of whose “day” it is. This is especially important to the parent who has been coaching little league or who attends Boy/Girl Scouts with the child. Such activities can be included in a time-sharing schedule and may be far more important than the number of overnights.

I’ve seen instances where joint and rotating custody works extremely well and other instances where it is not possible. The important thing to keep in mind is to focus on the parties’ need to share in the lives of their children and the children’s need for stability and equal participation, which may, or may not, equate to equal time, with both parents.

Lori Barkus is a Florida Supreme Court Certified Circuit Civil and Family Law mediator and guardian ad litem. She handles matters relating to divorce, custody, child support, paternity, collaborative divorce, adoption, parental rights, and family law and civil mediation.

Ms. Barkus is a cum laude graduate of the University of Miami School of Law. She is admitted to practice in Florida, Georgia and the District of Columbia, as well as in the Southern and Middle Districts of Florida and the Eleventh Judicial Circuit Court of Appeals. She is also a member of Leading Women for Shared Parenting.

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