A common misconception of physical custody of children following a divorce is that the term “joint physical custody” means that both parents split time with the children 50/50. Oftentimes, a joint physical custody schedule is thought of as a week-on/week-off custody schedule. However, it is important to understand that joint physical custody does not mean equal time for both parents with the children, but it does mean that each parent is entitled to frequent and substantial contact with their child. See Code of Alabama §30-3-151(3).
This contact is vital not only to any parent seeking to maintain a relationship with their child, but also to the child’s physical and mental health.
A study conducted by Dr. Robert Bauserman of AIDS Administration/Department of Health and Mental Hygiene in Baltimore, Maryland, consisting of an analysis of 33 other studies performed between 1982 and 1999, found that children subjected to a joint custody schedule (meaning that children are spending equal or substantial amounts of time with both parents) are better adjusted than those children operating in a sole physical custody schedule. The American Psychological Association, in reviewing Bauserman’s study, noted that children in joint custody arrangements had less behavior and emotional problems, had higher self-esteem, better family relations and school performance than children in sole custody arrangements, and these children were as well-adjusted as intact family children on the same measures. While Bauserman’s study is not an all-out endorsement of a joint physical custody schedule splitting time equally between both parents, it is an endorsement of children getting substantial time with both parents. Of course, each set of parents’ situations are certainly unique, as is each child, and joint physical custody will not be the answer in each case, especially where a parent’s conduct reveals some type of danger or harm to a child should they operate under a joint physical custody schedule.
The results of this study would appear to promote already-existing Alabama policy, which is for children to maintain “frequent and continuing contact with parents who have shown the ability to act in the best interest of their children and to encourage parents to share in the rights and responsibilities of rearing their children after the parents have separated or dissolved their marriage.” See Code of Alabama §30-3-150.
Again, not a single divorce action is the same, but both attorneys and parents should seek to promote a common interest in forming a custody schedule for their children following a divorce: the best interest of their child. Bauserman’s study indicates that a child’s interest appears to be best served not necessarily with each parent getting a strict 50/50 custody schedule, but when that child is maintaining substantial relationships with both of their parents.
by Associate Attorney Phil Fikes