50/50 custody refers to custody arrangements outside of the standard possession order that split time evenly between the parents. This arrangement might work as alternating weeks or an alternating group of days. Although these arrangements are not the norm, they can be approved by a family court and sometimes work very well. If you believe you will have a divorce or custody suit with 50/50 custody then you should contact a divorce lawyer to discuss your situation. However, sometimes these arrangements can start off as a good idea and turn into a real mess. Here’s some common reasons why:
1. A 50/50 split of time is possible but a 50/50 split of parental duties is very difficult.
Most people who seek a 50/50 custody arrangement are looking to split everything down the middle. The problem is a custody arrangement will include both division of possession time with the children as well as a division of parental rights and responsibilities. Some responsibilities must go to one parent or the other, such as the right to decide the children’s primary residence. (Ways exist not to give that particular responsibility to either parent; but if either parent will have it then only one can.)
Other responsibilities can be divided equally but generally should not be. This is particularly true of emergency medical decisions. If both parents have equal authority to consent or deny emergency treatment and they disagree about the treatment then that will leave the child with no treatment. You do not want a situation where the parents have to go to court to resolve the conflict. The child may not have that kind of time to wait.
If rights and responsibilities will be completely and equally shared then the possession order must be crafted very carefully to anticipate and avoid these situations. This is where Texas divorce lawyers can help preserve the custodial agreement.
2. Geography can be a real problem down the road.
When a possession order is first entered, what commonly happens is one parent has stayed in the marital home with the children and the other parent has moved into an apartment or new house nearby. That usually makes these 50/50 arrangements easy because the commute between parents is short.
However, lives change and one parent or the other may need to move further away for a job or family. The greater the distance means the greater the commute for the children. More time spent commuting is often a drain on the children and may not be in their best interest. The strain on both parents due to the frequent commute can easily spiral out of control. This is another reason to talk to a divorce lawyer about how to work out a 50/50 custody agreement.
3. The needs of the children will change with time.
Just like the lives of the parents will change, the lives of the children will change, too. The children may join extracurricular activities that make it difficult to keep them in constant commute. The children will inevitably develop friends where they go to school and they might grow to despise having to live away from their friends half of the time. These conflicts with the children can create friction in the parent-child relationship which can also spill over into the parent-parent relationship.
4. Your arrangement may have started off as an ineffective compromise.
Sometimes both parents in a divorce or suit for custody (known as a suit affecting the parent-child relationship) are dead-set on obtaining custody of the children and in the course of mediation the two parents agree to a 50/50 split because it’s the closest either parent could get to feeling like they won. Sometimes this is seen as a win because the parents will agree the 50/50 custody division means both parents are shouldering an equal financial burden and no child support is necessary.
This is rarely the breeding ground for an effective parenting relationship. 50/50 custody arrangements require a lot of work by both parents and a lot of cooperation. If both parents are antagonistic towards each other then the workload of the custody arrangement can quickly result in conflict.
5. Equal influence isn’t always a good thing.
In a 50/50 custody arrangement, each parent has equal time and authority to discipline, influence and teach the children. That doesn’t sound like a problem until one parent decides he or she doesn’t like what the other parent does. This is a problem for any custody arrangement; but particularly problematic when the parents have equal opportunities for conflict.
That sort of equal access means an equal opportunity to create very different, perhaps even contradictory, experiences for the children. That can be confusing and emotionally harmful. For example, it sends a strange message to the children if they are Mormon one week and Muslim the next.
Similarly, if one parent is very strict and the other is not then that can send conflicting messages about discipline and often will create conflict between the children and the parent with the higher level of discipline.
I am not anti-50/50 arrangements but I strongly believe the parents should thoroughly understand how the arrangement will work and carefully consider the challenges it creates. I also believe the arrangement must be carefully drafted to minimize the challenges and create opportunities for conflict resolution before the parents have to file suit to modify the possession order. If contemplating divorce and a 50/50 arrangement then you should contact my office to discuss your situation.