What Divorced Parents Should Know About Split Custody

While not appropriate in all situations, a split custody schedule may work for some families facing unique circumstances.

Split custody—sometimes referred to as 'divided custody'—is a very different form of child custody from joint or sole custody. It is much less popular than other forms of child custody and is used much less often. While some believe that split custody may have particular benefits for certain families facing specific challenges, others frown on this arrangement for the way that it separates siblings.

A split custody arrangement impacts physical custody by requiring siblings to separate so that some live with one parent and some live with the other parent. Sometimes, siblings will rotate homes or spend some time living together, but they are not always together.

When might a split custody schedule work?

Split custody is a controversial topic in family law, but how it will affect you and your family is entirely dependent on your own situation. Some people view split custody schedules as just a way to be fair to both parents, yet still, children face the burden of being separated from their siblings.

While not appropriate in all situations, a split custody schedule may work for some families facing unique circumstances. Some of these situations may include:

  • Your children have a bad relationship, worse than your average rivalry between siblings. If they are actively aggressive towards one another and are constantly at risk of hurting each other, you may consider separating them as you work with professionals to help reconcile their differences.
  • One or more of your children have special needs, and one parent is more equipped to assist in their care. In this situation, the child(ren) with special needs may stay with that parent all or most of the time to continue receiving the care they require.
  • One parent may live in an area that provides a child access to higher education or other opportunities that they wish to pursue and could significantly impact their future. In this situation, it may be more convenient for the child to stay with that parent during the times where they need access to these opportunities such as during the school year.
  • Sometimes, your child might ask to live with just one parent. While young children may not have a say in custody arrangements, a teenager may have a strong opinion that you might take into consideration.

Split custody is not always the solution

Although this arrangement has the potential to work in the right situation, split custody schedule can create more problems than it is resolving. Post-separation conflict can sometimes lead to quick decisions that end up hurting everyone involved. If split custody is a proposed idea, consider it carefully before moving forward with any plans.

Basics of split custody

Custody laws vary from state to state, and you should always refer to your attorney to answer questions about your specific situation. In general terms, here are some basic points about split custody that may impact your family.

  • A split custody arrangement only works in families with more than one child, allowing each parent to have physical custody of at least one child.
  • Children may switch between living with each parent, or they may each live permanently with only one parent.
  • Parents may share legal custody of their children, even if they have physical custody of only one child.
  • Split custody may not be an option in all states. Speak with your attorney to find out if this arrangement is even an option for your family based on where you live.
  • Parents must demonstrate to the court that a split custody arrangement is in the best interests of their children.

Even if a split custody schedule does seem like the best option for your family, you and your co-parent can still both stay in the loop about what's going on in the lives of all of your children.

Keeping split families on the same page with OurFamilyWizard

One of the biggest concerns with split custody is that the children are rarely able to spend time with each parent individually or with each other. To help relieve some of the stress brought on by separation, many families maintain a shared calendar.

OurFamilyWizard makes it easy for parents to share information about their children's schedules from separate homes. Sports games, music recitals, birthday parties, and other important events for the children are things that both parents may want to be informed about, even if they aren't living with all of their children. On OurFamilyWizard, parents can maintain a shared calendar with details about their children's various events so that neither parent is left not knowing what their children are doing.

More than just schedule details, parents can share family photos and notes about the details of different events that the kids enjoyed. This can make a difference for parents who can't always be right there to share in all of these moments.

Split custody can be a complicated arrangement for families, even if it seems to be the right fit. Carefully consider what the outcome of a split custody arrangement could be for your family before suggesting it as a solution. Discuss your questions and concerns about split custody with your attorney and any other trusted family law or mental health professionals you are working with, as they may have unique insight into how this kind of arrangement could impact your family. 


NOTE: Many state and federal laws use terms like ‘custody’ when referring to arrangements regarding parenting time and decision-making for a child. While this has been the case for many years, these are not the only terms currently used to refer to these topics.

Today, many family law practitioners and even laws within certain states use terms such as ‘parenting arrangements’ or ‘parenting responsibility,’ among others, when referring to matters surrounding legal and physical child custody. You will find these terms as well as custody used on the OurFamilyWizard website.