How many overnights is joint custody?
While this is a commonly asked question, it’s a bit of a misnomer.
The term “joint custody” is typically used to refer to legal custody, which is the right to make major life-shaping decisions for your child(ren). Legal custody has nothing to do with number of overnights. Both parents have it automatically upon the birth of their children. However, incident to divorce, it can be one of two options:
• Sole legal custody – one parent has the sole decision-making power; or
• Joint legal custody – both parents have the equal right to make the decisions, and they are required to co-parent and make the decisions jointly.
The number of overnights has more to do with what we call shared physical custody. Besides the fact that most parents want as many overnights as possible, simply because they want to maximize the time spent with their child(ren), the number of overnights can also impact the amount of child support a parent might pay (or receive).
In Maryland, we
have what are known as Child Support
Guidelines (commonly known as the Maryland Child Support
Calculator). Under the Maryland Child Support Guidelines, the amount of child
support varies if the parents share physical custody. Maryland considers
physical custody to be shared when each parent has the child for more than 127
overnights (the unit by which Maryland calculates the percentage of custody
held), or over 35% of the year. Once the parent required to pay child
support gets above a threshold of about 117 overnights per year, the amount of
child support owed usually decreases.