What Living Arrangements Are Best for Teenagers in a Joint Custody?

By Beverly Bird

Preteen girl arguing with mother in bedroom

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Some teenagers who live with joint physical custody arrangements have been doing so since they were young. Others may have the arrangement suddenly thrust on them at a time when things like friends, dating and choosing colleges are foremost in their minds. In either case, adjustments are often necessary when dealing with the schedule and feelings of a teenager who must frequently move between households.

One “Residential” Parent

Some children experience a pronounced need for a “home base” during their adolescent years, according to the website Custody X Change. Many areas of their lives are changing, and self-confidence might become a factor. Some teenagers need to know that one area of their lives is consistent and remains the same. These children often do best in situations where they live with one parent. No state defines joint custody as an exact 50/50 split between parents’ residences, and a system of frequent, and almost daily, visitation can qualify while still allowing the child to feel rooted. Sharing meals on a regular basis and consistently attending her scheduled events can provide more quality time than if your distressed teenager takes to her room the moment she arrives at your house, refusing to come out because she doesn’t like being forced to be there.

Parents’ Proximity

Adolescents tend to have more “baggage” than younger children, such as more necessary textbooks and clothing changes. This makes it difficult for a child to alternate between her parents' homes every few days, such as on a three/four-day schedule. A three/four schedule works best for teens when parents live only a few miles apart. In this situation, the teenager can move back and forth between homes more freely, especially if she’s old enough to drive. When parents live in close proximity to each other, it also helps avoid disrupting their teenager's social life with changes of custody time. She’s equally as close to her friends and activities at one home as she is at the other.

Weekly Plans

Courts sometimes award joint custody on a weekly basis, rather than have children move every few days, especially if both parents live in the same school district. In this situation, kids live with one parent for a week or two, then move to the other parent’s home for the same amount of time. However, if one parent doesn't live in the teenager's school district, this can mean a lot of driving time to get back and forth to school, either for you or for her. This will eat into her free time each day. This, along with being forced to leave her friends for a week or two might create resentment in a teenager. If you can't change your teen's weekly custody plan to a three/four-day plan, consider driving her back and forth from her “home base” neighborhood as needed. This becomes less of a problem for older teenagers who can drive and have access to a car.

Consistent Rules

No matter how often your child moves between homes, the rules in each house should be as identical as possible. Psychologist JoAnne Pedro-Carroll indicates for the "New York Times" that teenagers need structure and a clear definition of right and wrong. At a time in their lives when they’re faced with issues such as underage drinking, drugs and sex, it may cause problems if one parent establishes curfews, while in the other parent's home, curfews are non-existent. A teenager will naturally prefer the freedom of the noncurfew parent’s home, and may rebel against the stricter parent. So household rules should be uniform.