What Is "Split Custody"?

Divorce is confusing on so many levels.


You might not know how the court system works in general, and court procedures in particular. No one knows how paying an attorney works (primarily because the way they get paid makes little sense).


And, if you're like every normal person in America who isn't a divorce attorney, you don't know the lingo. (And, honestly, why would you? You didn't sign up for divorce when you got married.)

Oh, the lingo. It's hard for me to keep it straight sometimes. Just about custody, there's:


• Physical custody

• Primary physical custody

• Joint physical custody

• Legal custody

• Sole legal custody

• Joint legal custody

• Custodial parent

• Non-custodial parent

• Custodial/non-custodial parent for the purpose of holidays

• Primary residential parent

Split custody


And the list goes on. And those are just custody terms.


Each of these terms is what's called a "term of art." Term of art means the terms have very specific legal meanings, and those meanings don't always match up with how normal people would use the term.


For example, most people (at least most people who come in to our office) believe split custody means a 50/50 parent-time arrangement. (FYI, 50/50 parent-time is a form of joint physical custody.)


In other words, most people think it means sharing parent-time on a week-on-week-off sort of deal.


That totally makes sense, but in our weird divorce lawyer world, it's totally wrong.


Instead, split custody refers to a situation in which there are at least two kids, and at least one kid lives primarily with one parent, and at least one other kid lives primarily with the other parent.


So, say you have two daughters, Isabelle and Lacy. Split custody would be when Isabelle lives with mom most of the time and Lacy lives with dad most of the time. Maybe the girls are together when their times overlap with one parent on the weekends, but they're usually living apart.


As you might imagine, split custody isn't very common. We usually want to keep siblings together, so we keep them on the same parent-time schedule. Sometimes, though, there's a good reason to have them living apart, and that's when we explore split custody.


Hope that helps clear things up a little bit.

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