How joint custody makes lockdown potential
The author is a bond portfolio manager at Weaver Barksdale
When people ask me how I feel as a working mom with a kid who hasn’t set foot in school since March, I tell them I owe my survival to JC.
Joint custody, that is. I managed to survive in 2020 because I only have half a child from a time perspective. My nine year old son has been spending a week with each parent for the past five years.
There isn’t good data on children living equally in two houses, but the norm of joint custody seems to be slowly moving from a common name to a true two-house establishment. Gone are the days when fathers couldn’t expect more than every other weekend. The starting point of many separation negotiations is 50-50, although this will only become a reality for a minority of households. Old habits and ideas about the “better” (maternal) parents die hard.
The US Census Bureau found that in 2014, 27 percent of children under the age of 21 lived in families with only one parent. However, this statistic may not capture informal 50-50 schedules. State-level studies show a range of 50 to 50 custody situations, up to 46 percent in Washington. In Sweden, where 30 to 40 percent of children with divorced parents live in 50-50 situations, a study found that these children’s emotional well-being was much better than that of households with only one parent and only slightly below that of children with two parents -parents.
The outbreak of the pandemic forced co-parents like me to rethink detention plans for the lockdown. We became a modern version of the 1980s public announcement of AIDS in which a woman wakes up in bed with her partner, all of her partners, all of her partners, etc. Only this time did the Doom-Mongering include scenarios like “my ex girlfriend is going to give Covid-19 to my 83-year-old diabetic mother. ”
The possibilities for the chaos in detention seemed endless – one parent catches the virus and has to quarantine; One parent lives with an immunocompromised person while they are parents with a Covid denialist. One parent works in the intensive care unit. Of course, some co-parents disagreed on the Covid-19 protocols – and tried to write “their” way in custody agreements. Such disputes even led Texas to decide that custody trumps Covid and parents must adhere to their court-mandated schedules.
After the early freak-out, it became clear that working parent life at school can be a lot easier when you share custody. You only have to balance your work schedule with your child’s uncomfortable school hours half the time. Those who have the luxury of remote, knowledge-based jobs can redistribute their time to work more on the weeks off in detention. And two flexible households sometimes make it easier to deal with Covid-19 curveballs.
Before pointing out my privilege, let me take the necessary precautions. My ex and I are financially secure, have flexible jobs that allow us to work from home, and generally align with decisions about parenting on the whole. Neither remarried. Nobody hates anyone.
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But even in separated families that lack these advantages, the cadence is surprisingly resilient – and beneficial. A divorced friend with three children used her free time to open a personal cooking business to replace her event planning income. One might expect breadwinners to burden home mothers with extra childcare responsibilities, but none of my friends have seen this. Paid carers are cheaper than renegotiating child support and less disruptive than plan overhauls.
Women are leaving the workplace in droves to cope with the demands of distance learning. As Eve Rodsky puts it, women are usually the “culprits” – the ones who miss work when the children have needs. However, a 50:50 judicial split changes the equation.
Perhaps double income families who want to stay that way would benefit from a similar scheme. Why not try joint custody under one roof?