March 7, 2019-Defining Your Terms

Defining shared parenting is challenging from both a legal and social perspective, and even more so, when attempting to differentiate the real from the perceived differences and benefits that accrue to children from a joint legal custody or shared residential care arrangement. Professionals, courts and researchers have not been consistent in their use of terminology related to "shared parenting:" the term shared parenting can cover a range of different arrangements from equal time with joint decision-making on all issues, to an arrangement with primary residence with one parent limited time with the other and a complete division of decision-making in a parallel parenting arrangement necessitated by high conflict. Adding to the complexity, is that sometimes different terminology is used for similar arrangements (Bauserman, 2002; Buchanan & Jahromi, 2008; Fehlberg et al., 2011). [Authors' emphasis added]


We use the term "shared custody" (or "joint physical custody") as defined by Canada's Child Support Guidelines, as at least 40% of the time with each parent. We use the term "shared parenting" as including both shared custody and cases where there is joint legal custody or joint decision-making responsibility, as distinguished from cases of sole custody. Admittedly, this makes shared parenting a somewhat fuzzy concept, with no clear minimum time requirement, and the possibility that sole custody arrangements with generous access may be very similar to some joint custody arrangements. It does, however, allow for analysis of cases in a way that recognizes the importance of legal terminology and the psychological and social significance of use of terms like "joint legal custody." [Authors' emphasis added]

Rachel Birnbaum, Nicholas Bala, Shely Polak, Nida Sohani (2016). Shared Parenting: Ontario Case Law and Social Science Research, 35 CFLQ 139