Equal Shared Parenting: Pros & Cons of 50/50 Custody
Equal shared parenting — also called 50/50 custody — is a co-parenting arrangement in which parents have equal time with their child and make all major parenting decisions together.
The conventional arrangement of a child visiting their dad on weekends is no longer considered best for the child in most cases. And it doesn't reflect the reality of today's families — plenty of fathers and mothers want to parent equally, and many families have same-sex parents.
Equal shared parenting emphasizes that both parents, regardless of gender, should have joint custody and equal parenting time. It might be the answer for your family.
Visualize your schedule. Get a written parenting plan. Calculate your parenting time.
Pros and cons of equal shared parenting
While experts agree that joint custody and shared parenting are typically best for children, they disagree whether equal shared parenting is best for all situations. If 50/50 custody is on the table for your case, consider the potential benefits and drawbacks.
Pros of equal shared parenting:
- Children tend to have higher self-esteem and better school performance when both parents play a significant role in their upbringing.
- This level of co-parenting encourages parents to work as a team.
- Spending time equally at two homes can enrich a child's life experiences.
- Both parents spending equal time with their child reduces gender assumptions about parenting.
Cons of equal shared parenting:
- Frequent exchanges mean that parents have regular in-person contact, which can create conflict that negatively impacts children.
- Some children may struggle to adapt to frequently moving between homes.
- 50/50 parenting time can reduce or possibly eliminate child support payments, which may leave children without adequate financial support.
- It doesn't account for complicated parent–child dynamics that may mean a child would be better off spending less time with one parent (e.g., when you're co-parenting with a narcissist).
Equal shared parenting works best when parents can communicate well and cooperate without conflict. It's not recommended in high-conflict cases or those involving domestic violence.
When considering this joint custody arrangement, think about how it will affect your child and honestly assess whether you and your ex can effectively co-parent in this way.
Equal shared parenting laws
In recent years, state legislatures across the U.S. have passed laws designed to encourage equal shared parenting.
For example, Kentucky law assumes equal custody unless evidence proves a different arrangement is necessary. Arizona family courts must maximize each parent's time with the child. In Missouri custody trials, judges who don't order shared legal custody must justify their decision, and parents who don't ask for it in a settlement must explain why it wouldn't work.
Even if your state's custody laws don't call for equal shared parenting, all custody codes assert that children generally benefit when parents share responsibilities and parenting time.
How this plays out in your case depends on many factors: if you're settling or going to trial, if you and your ex can co-parent without conflict, and what's best for your child's well-being.
Examples of equal shared parenting schedules
You have countless options for 50/50 parenting time schedules. As you make yours, there are many factors to consider, including your child's age, temperament and school/activity schedule. Keep in mind logistical considerations as well, such as the commute time between parents' homes.
If you have multiple children with your co-parent, you can make individual calendars tailored to each child. You can also customize your calendar with third-party time and summer break arrangements. Keep in mind that most courts require a holiday schedule, too.
Alternating weekly or biweekly
One of the simplest 50/50 arrangements is the alternating weeks schedule, in which your child lives with one parent for a week, then with the other for a week. (This is sometimes called a 7-7 schedule.)
The 2 weeks each schedule has the child spend two weeks at a time with each parent.
These schedules often work well for teenagers, who can usually manage a week or longer without seeing either parent. Alternating weekly or biweekly are also good options when there's a long commute between homes or when parents want to minimize exchanges and interaction.
Alternating every few days
If you want your child to see both parents more frequently — recommended for school-aged and younger children — consider schedules that give each parent a few days at a time.
The 3-4-4-3 schedule has your child spend three days with one parent, then four days with the other. Then it switches, and your child spends four days with the first parent, followed by three days with the other parent.
In the 2-2-5-5 schedule, your child spends two days with each parent, then five days with each.
Sometimes giving one parent significant or even all weekend time is the best for parents' schedules — this is still possible with equal shared parenting.
The every extended weekend schedule normally splits time between parents 60/40, but it becomes a 50/50 schedule if you add third-party time when your child is at school or with a child care provider. (Third-party time is not included in parenting time calculations.)
The whole week/work week/weekend schedule gives each parent a mix of weekends and weekdays because each parent has the child for a full week, a work week and a weekend.
Parenting plan provisions for equal shared parenting
A parenting plan, also called a custody agreement, explains how you'll share parenting responsibilities and lays out rules for co-parenting. Most states require a parenting plan, and experts always recommend having one. (The parenting time schedule is typically part of the parenting plan.)
Your plan's provisions should be tailored to your family's situation and your child's needs. To make sure equal shared parenting goes smoothly, include provisions for the following:
- Decision-making: Explain exactly how you'll share equal decision-making for issues like your child's school enrollment, medical and dental care, religious upbringing, etc.
- Dispute resolution: Lay out a process for resolving parenting disagreements, such as mediation by a neutral friend or professional mediator.
- Child-rearing rules: Set agreed-upon rules for discipline, curfews, bedtimes, screen time, etc.
- Communication guidelines: Establish rules for how parents will communicate with each other and for how your child will communicate with the other parent during each parent's time.
- Changes to the plan and schedule: Plan for how you'll handle changes as your child grows up and as your family's situation changes, including what happens when a parent wants to move.
- Parents' new romantic partners: Agree on how parents' new romantic partners will be introduced to and spend time with your child.
- Shared expenses: Include guidelines for expenses not covered by your child support order (e.g., your child's phone bill).
- Support of parent–child relationships: Require that parents don't speak negatively about each other in your child's presence or ask your child for details about each other.
Equal shared parenting and child support
Equal shared parenting time has important implications for child support, which ensures that both parents meet their obligation to financially care for their child.
When parents don't share time equally, the parent with more time (often called the custodial or residential parent) spends their obligation directly on the child and receives payments from the other parent.
In many states, the more parenting time the noncustodial parent has, the less they pay in child support.
However, this doesn't mean that sharing custody 50/50 automatically cancels child support — parents' incomes are still considered.
If parents have similar incomes, support may not be required, or the payment may be small. If one parent makes a lot more money than the other, they can expect to make a significant monthly payment.
Alternatives to equal shared parenting
While equal shared parenting may be trending toward the norm, it's not right for every family or every child.
For some families, it works better when one parent has slightly more time (e.g., a 60/40 split). Divisions that give one parent the majority of parenting time (e.g., a 70/30 or 80/20 split) are still common.
If co-parenting simply isn't possible because there's too much conflict, consider parallel parenting, in which each person parents without the other's involvement.
The tools you need for equal shared parenting
A solid written agreement and detailed parenting time schedule are a must for equal shared parenting. But creating them on your own can feel overwhelming.
Let technology take the guesswork out of the equation.
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Visualize your schedule. Get a written parenting plan. Calculate your parenting time.