What is Joint Physical Custody?
A divorced mother explains how this equal arrangement works for their family.

When my partner and I of eight years split up, he suggested joint physical custody of our 7-year-old son, Noah. The concept was so foreign to me that I had to Google it. Joint (or shared) physical custody is when a child spends equal amounts of time with each parent. For example, living with one parent for one week and then with the other parent the following week.

There is nothing easy about discussing who your child will live with when family as he knows it is about to come to an end. My own parents were divorced when I was six years old and my mother had sole custody of my sister and me. It seemed obvious to me that Noah would live with me. He could stay at his Dad’s every second weekend, maybe also one night a week, and we would share holidays.

But conversations with Noah’s father made me realise that this was not necessarily what was best for Noah, or what was fair to him as his father. He wanted to have an active presence in his son’s life. Whatever differences he and I may have had, he has always been a great father and his son means more to him than anything in the world. It was with this knowledge, and hours of Googling the pros and cons of shared physical custody that I sat down to really think about what would be best for Noah.

Noah, wise beyond his years, is a sensitive, affectionate, loving and kind soul. It’s me that he calls out to when he has a bad dream. It’s me that he comes to when he wakes up in the morning. It’s my face he sees before he closes his eyes at night.

But he is growing, quickly. He is tall, sporty, loves games, stories, being in the water, and his cat. And he worships his father. He tears through the house to run into his father’s arms when he gets home at night. They are always laughing together. They are always scheming together. Together, they are boys.

I could no longer claim that it was largely me that Noah needed. He needed us both, equally.

Our arrangement is such that Noah spends one week with me and then one week with his father. When Noah is with me, his father comes to our home on Wednesdays for dinner and I go there when Noah is at his Dad’s. We try to make sure that he follows a similar routine in both his homes.

Obviously this option is not always viable. If you’re going to be living in different towns, for instance, it won’t really work. Also, to be honest, if Noah was a couple of years younger I’m not sure I would have been very keen on this idea. The circumstances surrounding the break-up or divorce would also be a factor. Too often, children are used in situations like this. As parents, it is our responsibility to put our children first.

The fact that we are no longer together continues to be painful for both me and my ex, albeit at different times. However, no matter what challenges our own relationship continues to face in light of all the changes we are still adjusting to, we are first, and foremost, parents.

In our case we have made this arrangement as part of a settlement agreement that was drawn up by a lawyer in order to dissolve our partnership in terms of property, debts and assets. It is our intention to re-evaluate this arrangement regularly to make sure that Noah is adjusting. I think that because we have, so far, managed to put Noah first and because we nurture Noah’s relationship with each other, Noah is adjusting incredibly well. I am so grateful for this. For this man that is still the father in Noah’s life and still the friend in mine. Our family is a little different now but we’ll always be a family.

Would you share your child?

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