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Shared Parenting Laws
Date posted - March 12, 2014
There has been a lot of news lately about South Dakota working on a shared parenting law based on the standards set by Iowa’s laws in 2004. For those not familiar here is copied from www.iowalegalaid.org
In 2004, there was an important change in Iowa child custody law. Prior to July 1, 2004, a kind of custody called “joint physical care” was rare but, because of the change in 2004, it has become more common. Since it is now more likely for parents involved in a custody dispute to be dealing with joint physical care, it makes sense to have a basic understanding of this kind of custody. What is joint physical care? How might parents end up with this kind of arrangement? How does it affect child support? Before answering these questions, this resource will answer some basic questions about Iowa custody law that will help you to understand joint physical care.
What are the main types of custody in Iowa? There are two basic types of child custody – legal custody and physical care (also called physical custody).
What is legal custody? Legal custody is the right to ask questions about, and make decisions about important matters concerning, children. If a court awards joint legal custody, each parent has an equal right to participate in decision-making about the child’s education, health care, religious instruction, and other similar issues. Joint legal custody is common. The alternative is sole legal custody, which is often ordered when the parents cannot communicate well or when it may be dangerous for them to communicate. Sole legal custody means only one parent has the right to make these decisions.
What is physical care? If a parent has legal custody rights, it does not necessarily mean that the parent has the right to have the child live with him or her. The court must decide, as a separate issue, physical care – which parent the child will live with. It is possible for a court to award both parents joint physical care.
What is primary physical care? Primary physical care is the kind of “custody” people typically think about in divorce and custody cases. The parent with primary physical care has the child living with him or her most of the time. The other parent generally has visitation rights with the child.
So, what is joint physical care? Joint physical care generally means that the child will live with each parent about half the time. Each parent has the right and responsibility to provide a home and routine care for the child when the child is living with him or her.
How might parents end up with a joint physical care arrangement? The parents could agree to joint physical care. Even if the parents do not agree to joint physical care, the court may still order it. If the parents are granted joint legal custody, the court may award joint physical care if one parent requests it and the court decides it is in the best interests of the child. The court is always supposed to make decisions that are in the best interests of the child. If the court denies the request for joint physical care, the court must to say specifically why it believes joint physical care is not in the best interests of the child. This is one of the changes that was made to the law in 2004.
Does the court have to award joint physical custody? When the law was changed in 2004, some people believed that it required the court to award joint physical care unless there were good reasons not to do so. However, the Iowa Court of Appeals has decided that the law does not mean that. The Court said joint physical care is simply one of the choices that the court has. Joint physical custody may be a good choice when it is in the child’s best interests and the parents are able to communicate and cooperate with each other.
What is a joint physical care parenting plan? Sometimes the court wants to know how the parents plan to carry out joint physical care. Then the court may require the parents to submit a proposed joint physical care parenting plan. This plan is supposed to show things like how the parents will make decisions affecting the child, how the parents will each provide a home for the child, how the child’s time will be divided between the parents, and how each parent will help the child spend time with the other parent. It would also explain how the child’s expenses will be paid for and how the parents will resolve major issues affecting the child. The court may want the parents to talk about other things in the joint physical care parenting plan.
How does joint physical care affect child support? When the court orders joint physical care, child support is still supposed to be ordered. This usually works out so that the parent who earns more financially assists the other parent in caring for the child. So that a fair calculation is reached, the Iowa courts generally calculate child support like this: The court figures out what each parent would have been ordered to pay if the other parent had been awarded primary physical care. Then, these two numbers are “offset” by subtracting the smaller from the larger. The parent who would have had to pay more support is usually ordered to pay this offset amount. The amount may be varied in some circumstances.
An example would probably be helpful. Say John and Jane are awarded joint physical care of their son, Joe. The court first assumes (pretends) that Jane was awarded primary physical care of Joe and calculates John’s traditional child support obligation. Say it works out to $400 per month. Then the court assumes that John was awarded primary physical care of Joe and calculates Jane’s traditional child support obligation. Say hers works out to $250 per month. The court offsets the two numbers by subtracting the $250 from the $400. This equals $150, and John is ordered to pay $150 per month as part of the joint physical care arrangement. Usually this means Dad’s get the short end of the stick. As a stepparent to 3 kids, I know first hand how this is. Dad is constantly told that his kids don’t want to see him or spend with him. But when the kids are dropped off for their weekend with Dad they are excited! They talk nonstop about the last 2 weeks of schoo, activities, things with friends, etc. Dad’s are left out of knowing when the kids are sick from school, when they are struggling in school. They don’t get to help with homework. They miss out on the growing up because Mom’s think they know best.
What are better ways to help families? Both parents are important. I think Iowa could do better than the minimal time most non-custodial parents get to parent their children. It’s not fair to kids and its not fair to Dad’s and I think Iowa can do better!