For younger children, there are many factors when deciding child custody. Small children have countless needs that must be met, and they are not able to make important decisions on their own.
Older children need a much different parenting style than younger children, so the process of deciding who lives where and when can be significantly different.
Here are some things to consider when thinking about child custody for older children:
Family time versus care
When deciding where older children will live in joint custody arrangements, the discussion has more to do with family time than who is available to watch the child after school. As older children and teenagers begin seeking more independence, the relationship built with their parents becomes important in a unique way.
In addition to traditional parental guidance, parents become collaborators as older children and teens figure out how to become adults. In these situations, it becomes more a matter of who can spend the time and have the influence the child needs.
Best interest of the child
Courts know that as independence increases for older children, so does the child's ability to alter which parent they are spending time with, even if it isn't consistent with what was ordered.
With this in mind, the opinions of the mother, father and child are all considered when it comes to custody arrangements for an older child.
Joint custody options
Joint child custody is about more than just living arrangements and visitation. There are three main options for joint custody, and it's important to consider all of the options, especially when you have an older child.
- Joint physical custody is strictly about where the child lives. This can be a simple arrangement where the child lives with one parent one week and the other parent then next. Or it can be a more elaborate arrangement of vacations and who takes the child to baseball on Saturdays.
- Joint legal custody is about which parent is making the decisions that affect the child. In this case, one parent might have full physical custody while both parents have to agree on decisions like where the child goes to school and summer camp.
- Joint physical and legal custody is a combination of the first two. Obviously this one can get complicated quickly since both parents have a say in everything regarding the child, but this choice can work very well with parents who are willing to work together to make sure their child gets everything he or she needs.
While your older child may bring some unique challenges to the table when it comes to negotiating a joint custody arrangement, involving your child in the discussion will help them feel valued.