Tonight’s post on Custody was written by our Lawrenceville family law attorney, Wesley Wilson.
When prospective clients first walk into my office I always ask them the key question, “what do you want to gain from this case?”. For most, their most important concern is their children. Many can’t fathom the idea of now not being able to see their children every day. As a parent of six year old in a split household, I can sympathize. I don’t think you ever get used to the idea of waking up and not being able to hug your child every single day. It is my reality, and a reality for so many others. Knowing this, many of my clients want to know their options when it comes to the physical custody of their children. Many are aware that in most situations, one parent is designated as the primary custodian. However, there is a growing number of individuals who are interested in splitting physical custody of their children.
Split custody schedules typically come in two forms. First is your typical schedule, each parent has visitation with the minor children every other weekend, while they split days during the week, every week. Second is a week on, week off schedule.
The problem with a split schedule is that not all courts are created equal, and not all courts are particularly open to the idea of children splitting time between their parents. In certain courts, such as Cherokee and Gwinnett, Judges will never order split physical custody in a dispute and are extremely reluctant to grant one, even when the parents agree to it on their own terms. All judges want stability. For these particular judges, stability means one place that the children can call home, something that is more difficult to do when traveling back and forth every few days. In their eyes, a split schedule is beneficial and convenient to parents only, and is rarely in the best interests of the children.
In speaking with judges, I have noticed certain factors that they key in on when deciding to grant a split schedule. First, “How far apart will the parents be living from each other once the divorce is finalized?” I recently recall a judge’s eyes lighting up when we informed him that the parties would only be living 4 miles away from each other once the divorced was finalized. This means less travel time for the children and a continued familiarity with the community in which they have become accustomed to living. Second, “What are the parties’ incomes?” An additional reason why parents want split custody is because it can typically get them out of paying child support. However, child support is just that, support for the children, and if there is a huge discrepancy between the incomes of the parties, judges still might require that child support be paid by the higher income parent. At a minimum, a good explanation will be needed regarding why it is in the children’s best interests for neither parent to provide child support. Third is the schedule. In my experience, the split schedule which is in the best interests of the children and the one which most judges are likely to sign off on is a week on week off schedule. This reduces the amount of exchanges and traveling that the children have to take part in and provides them with the most stability.
Ultimately the decision is yours. If you and your spouse can agree to it and it is in the best interests of your children, split custody might work for your family. But beware, judges in many counties are cautious and will want a very good explanation as to why they should allow such an agreement.