What is Joint Custody and How Does It Work?

what does joint custody mean

After couples with children separate or divorce, the well-being and best interests of the child take precedence. One arrangement that aims to ensure the ongoing involvement and shared responsibility of both parents is joint custody.

In this article, we will look into what is joint custody, examining its definition, rights and responsibilities, and how it is determined.

Joint Custody Meaning

Joint custody, also known as shared custody, refers to a legal arrangement where both parents are actively involved in making major decisions regarding their child’s upbringing and welfare. It recognises that children benefit from having meaningful relationships with both parents, even if they no longer live together as a couple.

Rights and Responsibilities

  • Decision-making: Under joint custody, both parents share the responsibility of making important decisions related to the child’s education, healthcare, religious upbringing, and other significant matters. This ensures that both parents have an equal say in shaping their child’s life.
  • Time-sharing: Joint custody also involves a shared parenting time arrangement, where the child spends substantial time with each parent. The exact schedule can vary based on the specific circumstances of the family and what is deemed to be in the child’s best interests.

Factors Considered by the Court

The determination of joint custody in Australia primarily revolves around the Family Law Act 1975, which focuses on the child’s best interests. Factors considered by the Family Court of Australia when deciding on joint custody include:

  • Relationship with parents: The court assesses the child’s existing relationship with each parent, considering the level of involvement, love, and support provided.
  • Parental cooperation: The willingness of both parents to communicate, cooperate, and make joint decisions in the child’s best interests is highly valued by the court.
  • Child’s wishes: The court may take into account the child’s views, particularly as they grow older, and demonstrate a level of maturity to express their preferences.
  • Geographic proximity: The proximity is considered to ensure the feasibility of joint custody, taking into account factors such as school locations and stability in the child’s routine.

How Joint Custody Works

 Here are the laws and regulations that govern joint custody agreements in Australia, giving you a thorough grasp of how joint custody functions.

Parenting Plans and Consent Orders

Parents can either come up with a parenting plan or ask the court for consent orders to establish joint custody.

A parenting plan is a document that outlines the decisions that will be made regarding the children’s care, living arrangements, and upbringing. Although it does not have legal force, it offers a framework for collaboration.

On the other hand, court-approved consent orders have legal validity, and both parents must abide by them.

Parental Responsibilities

When a child has joint custody, both parents are equally responsible for making important choices about their upbringing, including those involving their education, healthcare, religion, and extracurricular activities.

Communication and cooperation between parents are vital to ensuring the children’s best interests are met.

Living Arrangements

Joint custody arrangements can vary depending on the circumstances and the children’s ages. Parents can decide to spend equal amounts of time with each family, giving each child an equal amount of attention.

Alternatively, the children may spend more time with one parent while still maintaining regular contact with the other.

Also read: What Is 60 40 Child Custody: Quick Guide

Mediation and Dispute Resolution

Mediation is frequently advised when parents are unable to agree on joint custody. Mediation provides an opportunity for parents to discuss their concerns and work towards a mutually acceptable agreement with the assistance of a neutral third party.

If an agreement cannot be reached, the matter may proceed to court, where a judge will make a decision based on the child’s best interests.

Adjustments to Joint Custody Arrangements

Joint custody arrangements must be flexible because children’s needs can vary over time. The custody arrangement should be flexible enough to accommodate the children’s changing routines, school obligations, and extracurricular activities.

Regular contact and collaboration between parents are essential for a seamless transition and to cause the least disruption for the kids.

Is It Possible to Get Shared Custody Without Being Married?

Yes, it is possible to get joint custody of a child without being married.

The Family Law Act 1975 governs custody arrangements for children of separated parents, whether they are married or not.

Under the Act, the court must consider the best interests of the child when making decisions about custody and visitation arrangements.

If you are not married to your child’s other parent and wish to seek joint custody, you can make an application to the Family Court of Australia or the Federal Circuit Court.

The process involves filing an application, attending a court hearing, and presenting evidence to support your case.

Client Assistance

We recently assisted Nora in her pursuit of joint custody of her two children. Nora’s unwavering commitment to her children’s well-being after her separation from her partner deeply resonated with us. She would like to understand what does joint custody mean.

Our custody lawyers prepared comprehensive legal documentation, including a detailed parenting plan, and represented Nora in negotiations with her ex-partner, emphasising effective communication and shared decision-making.

Witnessing Nora’s joy when the court approved the consent orders solidifying the joint custody arrangement was incredibly rewarding.

Nora expressed her heartfelt gratitude for our dedicated support throughout her case. We take pride in making a positive impact on our clients’ lives.


Joint custody, as recognised within Australian family law, prioritizes the best interests of the child and aims to ensure ongoing involvement and shared responsibility of both parents.

By providing a framework for decision-making and time-sharing, joint custody offers children the opportunity to maintain a meaningful relationship with both parents, promoting stability and fostering their well-being.

Parents need to seek legal guidance to navigate the complexities of joint custody and ensure the best possible outcome for their children.

Director of Melbourne Family Lawyers, Hayder manages the practice and oversees the running of all of the files in the practice. Hayder has an astute eye for case strategy and running particularly complex matters in the family law system.

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