How to Respond to Your Ex's Demands for Shared Custody

Decide Whether to Give in or Fight for Custody

Family Fighting Over Children On Winter Beach
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Question: My ex wanted shared custody, and I said no. Now he said he's taking me to court for full custody! Should I let the court decide who wins custody -- and risk losing -- or should I just give in to my ex's demands for shared custody?

Answer: You are not required to agree to a shared custody arrangement simply because your ex demands one. However, if you go to court, be forewarned that the judge will rule based on the child custody arrangement he or she believes is in the best interests of your children, and there's a chance you could lose. Since the "best interests" standard takes a number of factors into account and gives the judge a great deal of discretion, it is hard to say how a particular judge will decide. And that uncertainty may make you uncomfortable. In fact, that may be just what your ex is counting on -- that you'll be so uncomfortable with the ambiguity that you'll give in to his demands!

Keep in mind, too, that judges in most states favor an arrangement where co-parenting and time with both parents is encouraged. This doesn't necessarily have to mean shared physical custody, though. A common arrangement is for the judge to award sole physical custody to the primary caregiver, but grant joint decision-making authority (called "legal custody") to both parents.

If your ex wants shared custody (physical), he will have to show to a judge that it is in the best interests of the child and that it would not disrupt the child’s routine. If your ex wants shared legal custody, the judge may award him this, but this only allows him to share in the decision-making about the child’s upbringing. If you and your ex have had difficulty co-parenting, the judge is less likely to award shared custody.