Is Split Custody the Best Option for Your Family?

Often one of the most contentious issues during the divorce process concerns child custody. For divorcing parents, the decision of which parent is awarded primary custody of their children can be an emotional and stressful process. There are several different types of child custody arrangements, among them, sole, shared, or split custody. Courts will generally consider the best interest of the child and which parent will be primarily responsible for the care and decision-making for the child after a divorce. This means that the court will consider a variety of factors when making a custody decision, including the child’s age, health, schooling, emotional and developmental needs, and each parent’s ability to provide for the child’s welfare. 

Child custody is a complex issue and is often difficult for both parents and children to navigate. In New Jersey, it is typical for parties to exercise joint legal custody with both parties having input in decision-making regarding the child’s health, education and welfare. In certain situations, a court will award sole legal custody to one parent with the other parent not having equal decision-making in major decisions regarding the child. This is typically awarded in situations where one parent is deemed unfit to participate in the decision-making for the child or is absent from the child’s life.The other parent is required to follow the agreed-upon decisions made by the parent who exercises sole legal custody.

A less common type of child custody arrangement is split custody. This involves dividing the children between the parties; for instance, one parent will have custody of one child while the other has custody of the other child or children. This type of custodial arrangement is very different from joint custody and an agreement for this type of custodial arrangement is often reached to minimize the amount of time children spend traveling between their parents’ homes and also allows the separation of siblings who do not get along. Split custody often allows parenting time and sibling time for the children to spend time with each other when not in the care of each child’s primary parent.

Split custody has also been awarded in situations where one child has special needs that one parent can better cater to which would enable that parent to focus solely on the child’s individual needs. The downside of this arrangement is that each child may not be able to maintain an equally meaningful relationship with both parents.

Split custody arrangements may be considered in the following situations:

  • When a child has special medical, developmental, educational, emotional, or social needs
  • When one parent is able to provide a child with better opportunities because that parent resides in a geographical area that allows the child to pursue a particular talent
  • When a child has behavioral problems and responds better to one parent who has been the primary parent for a significant period of time prior to the divorce
  • When both children are requesting this type of arrangement, for example, as teenagers, the parents may take into consideration the children’s wishes.

It should be noted that split custody arrangements are uncommon because most parents and courts believe it is in the children’s best interests for siblings to remain together after a divorce, and this type of arrangement may impact on the future relationship of the siblings and each child’s relationship with each parent.

If you are in the process of being divorced or contemplating divorce and considering the various custodial arrangements and trying to determine the best option for your family, schedule a consultation with a member of the Family Law team at Cohn Lifland to discuss the specific factors of your matter. We can help you navigate the complex issues concerning the decision-making regarding the best custodial option for your family.