Divorces are never easy on the couples, especially if they have children. We are all used to hearing about celebrities splitting up after five minutes of marriage! For example, in 2014 when Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie got hitched many believed the couple would be the exception because they have six children together.
The couple was formally known in the media as “Brangelina”, until Angelina Jolie filed for a divorce in 2016. Pitt responded to Jolie’s divorce petition by requesting sole legal and physical custody of all six children. The Pitt/Jolie case reports indicate that Pitt’s request, however, did not go very well with the court because he was under investigation for child abuse. As a result, the academy award winner was only awarded a temporary schedule of therapeutic supervised visits.
In January 2017, the couple agreed to seal their divorce papers after the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services cleared Brad Pitt of child abuse accusations. In June 2018, the estranged couple entered into a temporary custody arrangement of joint legal and physical custody.
In New York State there are three different custody arrangements, sole legal custody, joint legal custody and joint legal and physical custody (a.k.a 50/50 shared custody). The first type of custody is sole legal and physical custody, which means the children reside primarily with one parent and that parent makes all the major decisions without having to consult or co-parent with the other spouse. The court is more inclined to grant this type of custody arrangement when parents cannot communicate with each other for the sake of raising the children.
The second type of custody arrangement is joint legal custody with one parent having physical custody (the custodial parent). In this type of custody arrangement, the parties consult with each other regarding major decisions but the children reside primarily with one parent. Joint legal custody allows couples to co-parent together and put their differences aside in an effort to raise the children. Parents that have joint legal custody have to make major decisions regarding medical/health, education and religion together. For example, if the children reside primarily with mom and the parties have joint decision making, mom cannot unilaterally decide to enroll the children into a private school or change the children’s doctor without first consulting with dad. Some parents that have joint legal custody that do not wish to speak to one another choose to co-parent with each other using another form of communication such as text messaging.
The third type of custody is joint legal and physical custody (shared 50/50 custody). In this type of custody arrangement, both parents share decision making regarding the children and the children reside with them on equal time. The 50/50 custody arrangement was not preferred by the courts for a long time because many judges believed that it created an unstable home environment for the children. In other words, the children have two homes and the parties have to do a lot of back and forth shuffling the kids around. For example, parents may choose to have the children on alternating weekly basis. Some parents that cannot go a full week without seeing their children agree to exchange the children every two days and alternate the weekends – this of course leads to more back and forth exchanges of the children between the parties.
The joint legal and physical custody is still not the most preferred type of custody arrangement for judges. In my experience, only Queens County Supreme Court judges started recommending joint legal and physical custody in the last few years and only if the parties reside in close proximity with one another. Judges in other counties view shared custody as burdensome on the children and not in their best interest.
There is no right or wrong answer when it comes to the question of whether equal shared custody is in the best interest of the children. For instance, some parents feel that they should have equal parenting time with their children because prior to the divorce the children lived with both parents under one roof. However, other parents feel that it creates instability for the children because they have to transport the children’s clothes and their school books/supplies back and forth between two residences.
Every family is different and there should not be a standard custody arrangement. Parents who are both involved with their children’s upbringing, such as attending school meetings, taking the children to doctor’s appointments and helping their children with their homework should be allowed to have equal shared custody.