Dear Dr. Jann: I do not want joint custody with my ex. What should I do?
Dr. Jann: For the record, there’s joint legal custody, which requires parents to discuss decisions before implementing them and joint physical custody, which means the child physically lives in both parents homes.
Your question implies that you don’t want to consult your child’s other parent when making decisions for your child—and, in that case, I have to disagree with you. All things equal, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t have joint custody. Just because you’re angry or don’t want to deal with your child’s other parent, doesn’t mean joint custody isn’t appropriate for your child. Your child deserves both of his parents in his life.
That said, there are reasons why joint custody may not be appropriate in some cases:
1. Domestic Violence – Either mom or dad was found guilty of Domestic Violence against the other. In California, Family Law Code 3044 prevents the perpetrator of domestic violence to have joint custody until certain rebuttable criteria is met. There are similar laws in each state.
2. Mental Illness – There are plenty of parents with a mental health diagnosis that have custody of their children. It may not be appropriate, however, if a parent is psychotic or delusional, or their judgment is impaired by not taking prescribed medication. (Or, taking it irregularly.) This is not an arbitrary decision, but would be determined by professionals treating the parent.
3. Abuse of any sort-mental, physical, sexual, or emotional.
4. A history of irregular visitation – It may not be in a child’s best interest if a parent is inconsistent when visiting. Tell your child that you will be there, then don’t show up? That’s mental and emotional abuse. If you haven’t seen your child in a couple of years, shared custody may not be in his best interest until you can establish a pattern on which he or she can depend.
There are other situations where you might think joint custody is inappropriate, but the court won’t agree with you:
1. Infidelity – Granted, betrayal is terrible and very difficult to get over, but it’s not against the law and therefore, the court cannot use that as a basis to prevent time with the “offending” parent. It often makes joint custody very difficult because the betrayed parent is so hurt angry, and possibly revengeful, but you have to do your best to keep your child away from the adult drama. This is where the Ten rules of good Ex-etiquette for Parents really comes into play. Consider rule #1, Put your child first, #3, Don’t badmouth anyone the child loves, #5, Don’t be spiteful, #6, Don’t hold grudges. For further information, see my article on the 10 Rules of Good Ex-Etiquette For Parents.
2. Moving in with someone else quickly – I often hear from parents who are upset that their ex has moved in with their new partner a few weeks after the break-up or after only a few weeks of dating and expects to share equal parenting time. It may not be in the best interest of the child psychologically or emotionally, but there’s no law that prevents it. Judges make their decisions based on law.
3. You’ve always taken your child to the doctor, dentist, school, etc – Parenting plans are often based on how the parents shared their children’s time prior to going to court, but that’s not written in stone. Either parent can take a child to the doctor, and just because they didn’t before, doesn’t mean they won’t now. It’s not uncommon for parents who were not involved with their children when in a relationship, become very attentive parents once the relationship is over. If you can’t agree, a judge will make the final determination.