Do you have to pay child support if you have joint or 50/50 custody?

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Increasingly, separated and divorced parents are either choosing or being forced by courts to share parenting time equally. While it can be easy to understand that a parent with minority time should 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, it seems to many parents that child support serves no role.

You are wrong. Keep reading to understand the child support rules when parenting time is equally shared:

Studies on why equal parenting time is best for kids — and parents

Who pays child support with joint 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. Here is a free divorce worksheet to get going. Uncontested, mediated and collaborative divorces create a low-conflict space to negotiate a fair child support agreement.

Learn more about the child support calculators in your state:

District of ColumbiaFlorida
NevadaNew Hampshire
New JerseyNew Mexico
New YorkNorth Carolina
North DakotaOhio
PennsylvaniaRhode Island
South CarolinaSouth Dakota
West VirginiaWisconsin

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’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 (64% of millennial moms have had at least one baby outside of marriage, according to Johns Hopkins), and forced fathers to be true co-parents, gender economics in this country would look very, very different.

More surprising single mom statistics: prepare to have your mind blown

Online parenting classes for divorce and conflict

Listen to my Like a Mother podcast episode on the topic:

How is child custody determined?

How child custody is determined for separated and divorced parents varies widely from state to state and community to community. You can ask an attorney in your area what to expect, as well as look up the custody laws for your state. The following can be considered when determining the parenting schedule:

  • Willingness of each parent to be equally involved
  • Most recent parenting arrangement — if one parent has been more involved in the child’s care, a judge may want to continue that
  • Parents’ schedule — how much time do parents have outside of work and commute to spend with the child?
  • Parents’ proximity to one another — does one parent live far away, requiring a long commute to school or the other’s home? Does one parent live out of state or the country?
  • Past or current struggles that may suggest a threat to the child: Mental health, addiction
  • Abuse of the other parent or child
  • Reliability. If one parent has a history of not showing up, or arriving late to switch off the kids.
  • Parent’s gender. In most states, judges are not required to state why they order any particular parenting schedule. However, some determine these orders based on sexist notions that mothers should be primary caregivers.

Best interests of the child

Historically and to this day, child custody cases defer to “the best interest of the child” — an arbitrary term that was once rooted in early social sciences that found that children bond deeply with one adult, and less so with other, secondary adults.

This research has been over-run with dozens of studies that find that approximately equal parenting time between mothers and fathers (or two moms and two dads, for gay families) is the best interest of the child.

Best interest of the child standards and its wide room for interpretation promotes highly contentious divorce proceedings that have been the norm for decades.

Leaving your spouse? Divorce checklists

Types of custody

Custody is a broad term. Here is what you need to know about child custody in divorce:

Legal custody

Legal custody refers to the legal rights a parent has to decision-making rights for major issues, including education (which school the child attends), religion, and medical decisions.

Physical custody

Physical custody refers to who has the majority time with the children — this can refer to sole physical custody or shared physical custody.

Joint custody or shared custody

Joint legal custody is the most common agreement, in which both parents have equal rights to have a say in major decisions affecting children, including medical, education, religion, and where the child lives.

50/50 time-sharing means that the time the kids spend with both parents is approximately equal.

It is very common for parents to be awarded joint legal custody — presumably deeming both fit enough to make sound decisions for their children. However, equal parenting time 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, and more people file their own divorce papers online, and equal parenting becomes the norm, this sort of arrangement is less comon.

Learn more about our No. 1 divorce papers recommendation in our 3StepDivorce review.

Sole custody or full custody

Sole custody means that one parent has all the legal rights to make major education, health and legal decisions about the child’s — 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.”

50/50 custody / parenting time

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

In 2017, Kentucky became the first state in the country to pass an equally shared parenting law, one which creates a rebuttable presumption of equal parenting time for separated and divorced parents. That means that when you split in Kentucky, time with the kids is equally split in half — and the onus is on one parent to argue the other should have less time.

How SAHMs divorce

Within two years of the law passing, the number of family court filings in Kentucky dropped by more than 11%, and the number of family court filings involving domestic violence dropped by 4%.

Other states including Arizona, Missouri and Minnesota also have very progressive and strong shared-custody laws, and at any time about 20 states are debating legislation that would do the same.

However, there is a long way to go. In 14 states, when parents are not married when the child is born, sole custody is automatically awarded to the mother, even when the father signs a paternity acknowledgment form.

Frequently asked questions about joint custody

Is joint custody the same as 50/50?

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.

What is a typical joint custody schedule?

If you share parenting time equally, here are some common scheduels that parents adhere to:

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.

2-2-3 schedule

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.

3-4-4-3 schedule

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.

2-2-5-5 schedule

The 2-2-5-5 schedule has your child spend 2 days with each parent and then 5 days with each parent.

We elaborate on these 50-50 schedules in this post.

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 chidren, and children have a right to their parents.

What is the disadvantage 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 father 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. Here is a free parenting plan template you can use with your kid’s other parent, or with a mediator. 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.

Related documentary and books on shared parenting:

Divorce Corp and Erasing Family documentaries

Kickass Single Mom, Be Financially Independent, Discover Your Sexiest Self, and Raise Fabulous, Happy Children, By: Emma Johnson

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

Are you part of the Facebook group, Millionaire Single Moms? No income requirement, though BIG GOALS and a positive MINDSET required! Join now!

How to be a successful single mother founder Emma Johnson is an award-winning business journalist, activist, author and expert. A former Associated Press reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has appeared on CNBC, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, NPR, TIME, The Doctors, Elle, O, The Oprah Magazine. Winner of Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web” and a New York Observer “Most Eligible New Yorker," her #1 bestseller, The Kickass Single Mom (Penguin), was a New York Post Must Read. As an expert on divorce and gender, Emma presented at the United Nations Summit for Gender Equality and multiple state legislature hearings. More about Emma's credentials.

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