Q: My wife and I are separating. We have two sons, 11 and 8 years old. Things are reasonably amicable between us, especially regarding the children, and we are trying to figure out custody and access. We both work full time and will be living near each other. What does custody mean, and what sort of arrangements do people in our situation make?
People commonly use custody to describe who the children live with, but that is legally inaccurate. Custody refers to decisions about how the child is raised – things such as education, residence, health care and activities. Therefore, joint custody does not mean a 50/50 time split between the parents. It means they will share in decisions about those important factors. In a situation such as yours, joint custody is likely appropriate. This means you will make decisions jointly on the above issues, regardless of how much time the children spend with each parent.
Time spent with the children is referred to as access. In a joint custody situation, you may share access equally. Some families do one week rotations, others more frequently. When access is not equal, the parent who has the children less often has them every other weekend and one weeknight each week. The arrangement should be based on such factors as the age and care arrangements of the children and the work schedules of the parents. In all circumstances, the parties should strive to consider what will be best for the children to maintain positive relationships with both parents.
When you are negotiating your separation agreement, a family lawyer will be able to advise you on the legal and practical considerations of custody and access.