In dealing with child custody questions, lots of people say they want “fifty-fifty,” without really knowing what that might mean for them or their children. People usually mean they want to alternate days or weeks in some fashion, figuring that they will split their kids in the same way they divide property. It doesn’t really work like that in Idaho.
The standard for a court in determining child custody issues is deceptively simple: the court may order whatever seems “necessary or proper in the best interests of the children.” I.C. § 32-717. In so doing, the court is to consider a number of factors:
- the wishes of the parent or parents;
- the wishes of the child;
- the interaction of the child with his or her parents and siblings;
- adjustment to school, home, and community;
- “character and circumstances of all individuals involved”;
- the need for continuity and stability; and
- any history of domestic violence.
Usually, there is a presumption that a child does best when both parents have active involvement in the child’s life, but there is no presumption that the best arrangement is “fifty-fifty.” Instead, the most typical arrangement is “joint custody,” which means that “physical custody shall be shared by the parents in such a way as to assure the child or children of frequent and continuing contact with both parents.” I.C. § 32-717B(1). However, this does not “necessarily mean the child’s time with each parent should be exactly the same in length nor does it necessarily mean the child should be alternating back and forth over certain periods of time between each parent.” I.C. § 32-717B(2).
In other words, although a traditional “fifty-fifty” arrangement might be best for the children, it often is not and the court is free to so find. For example, where a mother is breast-feeding an infant, fifty-fifty is likely not the best situation. There’s evidence in fact that fifty-fifty is not in the best interests of younger kids and even some teenagers. In fact, there is substantial evidence that kids can do great growing up in a non-fifty-fifty arrangement, so long as they have significant, continuing contact with both parents.
Thus, rather than fighting each other for fifty-fifty, parents need to figure out what is best for their kids and to focus on preserving their co-parenting relationship with the other parent. Parents should always remember that any conduct that puts the kids in the middle of the conflict will be detrimental to the kids, even if it feels good to the parent at the time. Thus, parents should NEVER speak badly of the other parent in front of the kids, ask the kids to spy on the other parent, or complain of frustrations in dealing with the other parent.