Increasingly, separated and divorced parents are either choosing or being forced by courts to share parenting time equally.
While it makes sense for a parent with minority time to pay support to a majority time parent — off-setting some of the daily costs of raising a child, as well as compensating a majority-time parent for care — when parenting time is shared 50/50, child support makes less sense.
Keep reading to understand the child support rules when parenting time is equally shared:
- What is 50/50 custody?
- Is joint custody the same as 50/50 custody?
- Pros and cons of 50/50 custody
- Common 50/50 custody schedules
- Why 50/50 custody is best
If you are navigating a 50/50 custody schedule with your ex, simplify your communication with the Our Family Wizard app.
What is 50/50 custody?
50/50 custody or time-sharing means that kids spend an equal amount of time with both parents.
50/50 parenting time can be called many things:
- Equally shared parenting
- Joint physical custody
- Shared residential custody
- Shared physical custody
- Equal legal custody
- Equal parenting time
Molly Rosenblum, owner and founding attorney of The Rosenblum Allen Law Firm based in Las Vegas, says the most common custody arrangement is joint physical custody, though equal parenting time is far less common.
Neither joint legal nor joint physical custody automatically have any bearing on one another, nor any child support paid. In other words:
A father with 50/50 custody can pay child support — and even alimony. However, as divorces become less contentious, more people file their own divorce papers online, and equal parenting becomes the norm, this sort of arrangement is less common.
Other types of custody
Custody is a broad term. Here is what you need to know about child custody in divorce, according to Divorcenet.com:
- What is legal custody? This refers to the legal rights a parent has to decision-making rights for major issues, including education, religion, and medical decisions.
- What is physical custody? This refers to who has the majority time with the children — this can refer to sole physical custody or shared physical custody.
- What is joint custody or shared custody? This is the most common agreement, in which both parents have equal rights to have a say in major decisions affecting children.
- What is sole custody or full custody? Sole custody means that one parent has all the legal rights to make major decisions concerning the child — and all or most of the time with the child. Visitation, or time-sharing, or residential custody are all terms that refer to the amount of time the children spend with each parent. Children live with parents who have “primary physical custody.”
Is joint custody the same as 50/50 custody?
Custody term definitions really depend on where you are who you are talking to, so it is best to ask for clarification. Custody can refer to legal custody or physical custody.
Both types of custody can be split equally, or one parent can be granted primary or sole custodian of the child — in regards to either/or legal or physical care.
Who pays child support with joint custody or 50/50 custody?
Each state has its own laws and child support calculator and in some of them the sum of time each part spends with the children is factored into the sum owed. However, there is no state in which equal parenting time equals no child support owed. Mothers who earn more than the father can be ordered to pay child support.
That said, parents can make any agreement between them and deviate from their local family court child support standards, and agree on a 50/50 time-sharing with no child support paid to anyone, while the parents figure out how to equitably split out-of-pocket expenses like health insurance, child care and extracurricular activities.
If you and your spouse have an amicable separation and feel like you can settle your divorce yourselves, you may be able to agree on sharing time with the kids equally and foregoing child support. Uncontested, mediated and collaborative divorces create a low-conflict space to negotiate a fair child support agreement and be better co-parents.
While there is a great movement towards 50/50 equally shared visitation time, the majority of family courts still default to some version of a model that has prevailed in separated families for decades:
- Dad pays mom child support, and maybe alimony.
- Mom is the primary custodian and dad gets the “Friday night special” — every-other-weekend, and Wednesday night dinners.
This antiquated arrangement only reinforces the sexist notions:
- Women are incapable of supporting themselves.
- Fathers are inferior parents. A dad explains: “Why I don’t see my child.”
- Women’s job in society as unpaid caregiver, financially dependent on a man.
- Men’s job in society is to be the breadwinner, reliant on a woman to care for his loved ones.
These notions are supported by Pew research findings:
About three-quarters of Americans (76%) say men face a lot of pressure to support their family financially, compared with 40% who say the same about women. And while about two-thirds (68%) say men face a lot of pressure to be successful in their job or career, fewer than half (44%) say women face the same type of pressure.
By contrast, far larger shares of the public say that women are pressured to be an involved parent. 77% say women face a lot of pressure to be an involved parent; 49% say the same for men.
This outdated arrangement holds women, men, families and the economy back.
I can tell you first-hand it is a heck of a lot harder to get ahead professionally and financially if you are the sole – or majority care provider for children.
If we unburdened the 10 million single mothers in this country from this responsibility (40% of women in the U.S. have had at least one baby outside of marriage), and forced fathers to be true co-parents, gender economics in this country would look very, very different.
Listen to my Like a Mother podcast episode on the topic:
What are the pros and cons of 50/50 custody?
According to Alexandra Cromer, a Licensed Professional Counselor from Thriveworks in Richmond, VA., these are some pros and cons to a 50/50 custody schedule:
Pros of 50/50 custody
- Reliable and consistent
- Helps in planning for travel/trips/scheduling
- Allows kids to have a substantial amount of time spent with each parent
- Does not require a sudden change of environment multiple times throughout the year/week/month
Cons of 50/50 custody
- Some arrangements might be “too long” for some kids, especially if they are more attached to one parent over the other and aren’t used to seeing them as frequently
- Can cause issues in terms of scheduling birthdays and holidays
- Can cause social and sometimes academic aspects of a child’s life to be disrupted
What are common 50/50 custody schedules?
There are a lot of different types of 50/50 custody schedules, so you can find one that works for your specific family situation:
Alternating week schedules
Alternating week schedules — one week on, one week off. May parents use the school as an exchange spot in this case, with one parent dropping off the children at school on Friday, and the other parent picking them up that Friday for the following week.
Alternating two days schedule
Alternating two days — parents switch off every two days. This can work well for very small children.
The 2-2-3 schedule has the child spend 2 days with one parent, 2 days with the other parent and 3 days with the first parent. Then the next week the schedule flip-flops.
The 3-4-4-3 schedule has your child spend 3 days with one parent, then 4 days with the other parent. Then it switches, and the child spends 4 days with the first parent, followed by 3 days with the other parent.
The 2-2-5-5 schedule has your child spend 2 days with each parent and then 5 days with each parent.
Why 50/50 custody is best for most families
According to a review of research published in the Journal of Family Psychology, children in joint custody vs. sole custody arrangements had:
- Less behavior and emotional problems
- Higher self-esteem
- Better family relations
- Better school performance
50/50 custody, parenting and time-sharing is better for all families, everywhere
If women know they can never rely on a man outside of marriage for income, we will make different, better decisions about our careers, and money.
When divorce courts force both sexes to participate in the workforce and with children in equal measure, that message trickles into all families — including married and single-people homes.
When both sexes are forced by court or social pressure to parent equally, men and women on corporate boards, in Congress, in C-suites, and on down make different, better policies for workers and families.
Plus, this presumed, equal and fair arrangement relieves courts of the endless bickering and petitions that distract from extreme cases — like actual abuse and neglect — for which deviation from this rule would be appropriate.
Strong workforce participation by women is great for children, as studies have shown. Strong workforce participation by women is great for the economy, national security and societal stability.
How 50/50 custody, parenting and time-sharing affect the pay gap
When parenting time is shared equally, single moms would have so much more time to invest in their careers and businesses.
When parenting is equal, moms are not the default caregiver when kids barf in the night and need to stay home from school.
50-/50 custody means moms would not automatically be the parent that must leave work early for teacher meetings, or systematically forgo career-advancing work travel or evening networking events.
More equal time affords moms much-needed time to rest, exercise and develop relationships and interests outside of their kids that make women happier mothers and more productive citizens.
This survey of 2,279 single moms found a direct correlation between time-sharing equality, and the women’s income and attitudes about motherhood: more time equality meant more income, and more satisfaction with parenting.
When dads not only have equal parenting time, but also equal parenting responsibility, fathers are forced to make the hard work-life decisions that women have known for generations, leveling the workplace playing field.
Decisions like whether to take time off after having a child, or scale back a career to nurture young children — the very hard decisions that women have made for generations, and are at the root of the pay gap.
Finally, joint physical custody equalizes parents not only in separated and divorced families, but all families. Laws supporting 50/50 custody change family culture. If equal parenting were the norm, this would create a collective mind shift at home, work and in the bedroom.
After all, time and again, when asked how we will ever close the pay gap, experts cite affordable child care. Having half of the time off from your kids, who are in the safe and loving care of the other parent, is as good as it gets. No expensive state or federal budgets required! No politically charged policy to pass! JUST SPLIT TIME EQUALLY BETWEEN PARENTS!
Celebrities practicing 50/50 custody/equal co-parenting:
- Brad Pit and Angelina Jolie
- Bradley Cooper
- Rob Kardashian
- Chris Pratt and Anna Faris
- Kristin Cavallari and Jay Cutler
Common concerns about 50/50 custody, no child support
I know the pushback:
1. I am the better parent. I am the mother! I don’t want him to have more than 30% visitation. It’s not good for the kids.
If he is safe to be with the kids 30% — or 10%, or 20% — he is safe to be with them 50%.
This is true even in cases where there is high conflict between the parents, or one is richer than the other.
Just because the child lived in your uterus does not mean you get more say in how they are raised.
However, if you work on practicing equally shared co-parenting, you may find that both parents can grow in their parenting — and know that their children benefit from it. More tips on how to co-parent in this post.
Men will never step into their full father potential if we keep assuming they are the inferior parent. In fact, many men and women both attest to the fact that fathers really improved their parenting after divorce. These parents say that this happened because:
- They were forced to — the mom wasn’t there all the time to swoop in when parenting was stressful. This is hardly surprising. Parenting is not rocket science, and men and women are born equipped for the job. Keep in mind that humanity has thrived based on the model of very young, uneducated people raising other to adulthood. Parenting is not a higher calling requiring of special skills or education.
- There was no mom nearby micromanaging his parenting. Now alone with the kids, the dad now had room to grow into the father he was meant to be.
2. We agreed I would give up my career to stay with the kids, and it is not fair that my standard of living is compromised because he wants to divorce!
You’re not a child, and he is not your father. You entered into marriage knowing the risks.
You are an adult woman who has political and economic rights that you chose not to exercise.
That was not a good decision, and I am sorry you made them, but it is not another person’s responsibility to pay for those decisions.
If you want a higher standard of living, you are free to pursue a career that will afford you that.
Now that he has the kids 50%, you have plenty of time to do that.
3. He is supposed to take the kids half the time but never shows up. I still shouldn’t pursue child support?
That is a decision that you have to make.
Yes, if he doesn’t care for the kids half the time, he should step up and care for them financially.
But keep in mind these things:
- He will always and forever resent giving you that money and it will be a wedge between you in any co-parenting.
- Psychologically, taking that money will likely hold you back. He is a man you are no longer tied to romantically, and from whom you are (or should be) striving to create a separate life. Money ties people together. You risk being dependent on him. Tread carefully.
4. My kids are so little! My baby is nursing! 50-/50 doesn’t make sense!
I agree. This is about being reasonable and what is good for the greater sum, without abandoning the individuals.
Nursing babies and their moms, temporarily, require certain circumstances. So do disabled adults, and deployed military.
If today you commit to 50/50 parenting starting at age 1 with increased time with the father now, that defuses conflict and builds trust that the spirit of your agreement is indeed fair.
A broader societal move to default, equal parenting and no child support will not be painless. But they are necessary steps in an evolution towards financial and parental equity.
Note that in cases where ‘standard’ visitation is awarded — every-other-weekend — fathers become depressed and non-involved, and within 3 years, one study found, 40% of children in an unequal visitation arrangement had lost complete touch with their non-custodial parents, which are nearly always the father.
FAQs about child custody
What is the most common child custody arrangement?
Joint custody is the most common child custody arrangement, where a child spends part of the time with each parent.
What is a typical joint custody schedule?
There is no definitive data on the most common joint custody schedule, but these are popular options:
- Alternating weeks
- Alternating two days schedule
- 2-2-3 schedule
- 3-4-4-3 schedule
- 2-2-5-5 schedule
Who claims child on taxes with joint custody?
Which parent claims the children on taxes with equal parenting time can be decided between the parents, and with the help of an accountant, you both may be able to work out an arrangement that saves you both on taxes. However, if you can’t figure this out yourselves, your state’s family law may have a law that will guide you, or a judge will make the determination.
What rights does a father have with joint custody?
Technically, if parents have equal custody, they both have equal say in how the child is raised regarding large decisions, equal time with the children, and the right to parent how they like during their parenting time.
Unfortunately, it can be messier than this.
Constitutionally, both parents have equal rights to the children, and children have a right to their parents.
What are the disadvantages of joint custody?
I have studied parenting for single parents for nearly a decade and I have seen no real evidence in the scientific literature to find any large-scale negatives for equally shared parenting. Children fare best when they spend equal time with both parents.
Mothers can earn more and be more well-rested when they share parenting time equally with their kids’ parent. And men who are engaged fathers suffer less mental and physical health issues.
On an individual level, some parents may not want to share parental control, or miss out on time with their children.
Can a mother refuse joint custody?
Anecdotally I know that women are raised to believe we are the dominant parent, and we behave accordingly. The question here only supports this notion that mothers have within our power to refuse or grant fathers access to their own children.
Technically, mothers do not have this power in any state. However, mothers do have an upper hand in the domestic sphere and in family court, and when in question, most judges do still grant mothers primary parenting time.
Why would a judge deny joint custody?
There are many reasons a judge would deny equal parenting time, or order an unequal parenting schedule:
- One parent has a history of abuse of any kind
- One parent has a history of addiction
- One parent has a history of mental health issues
- One parent has unstable housing
- The judge is not educated about the most recent, and very established science that proves that children fare best when they spend equal time with both parents, and instead defaults to erroneous presumptions that children need on primary home
- The judge is sexist and believes mothers are better parents
- The judge is sexist and has a history of punishing women
- The judge is sexist and has a history of punishing men
- The judge is jaded after hearing too many false allegations and grants primary time to the accused parent
- There is evidence of parental alienation, and the judge grants primary time to the alienating parent
- One parent wants less than 50% parenting responsibility and time
- An equal parenting schedule would dramatically reduce child support for one parent, and the judge wants to prevent that
- The judge owes one of the parties’ attorneys a favor, or is otherwise a friend
- The judge is sick of one parent filing frivolous and petty claim and is retaliating
- The judge is having a bad day and one parent ticked her off
The ambiguity about what to expect in family court is a good reason to find a way to stay out of family court if you can. You can come up with your own agreement, and file it in your local court if you prefer, saving you untold sums of money, time, stress and loss of control.
How do you split custody evenly?
Cromer says one way to split custody evenly is to make sure the number of days/weeks spent with each parent per year is roughly equal.
“This allows for the child/parents to pick the schedules and days of the year that best work for them and allows them to spend the most time together with minimal impact to the child,” Cromer says.
Bottom line: Is 50/50 custody best for a child?
Cromer says there is no straightforward answer to this question. She says the best custody schedule for a child is one that:
- Meets the child's need for interaction with a parent
- Fosters healthy relationships
- Still allows the child to have social, academic, and emotional successes
“Ideally, the best custody schedule would be the one that most closely fits the schedule and needs of the child, rather than the parents,” Cromer says.
More on divorce and co-parenting:
Blend, The Secret to Co-Parenting and Creating a Balanced Family, By: Mashonda Tifrere
Co-parenting with a Toxic Ex: What to Do When Your Ex-Spouse Tries to Turn the Kids Against You, By: by Amy J. L. Baker, PhD and Paul R Fine, LCSW
Divorce Poison: How to Protect Your Family from Bad-mouthing and Brainwashing, By: Dr. Richard A. Warshak
50/50 custody or time-sharing means that kids spend an equal amount of time with both parents.