As parents go through the divorce process, decisions must be made regarding the care and support of their children. There are various legal and physical scenarios that may occur, and it is important to understand that physical custody is different than visitation, also known as parenting time. In some cases, one parent is awarded sole physical custody, but parenting time is ordered so that the non-custodial parent can spend time with and maintain a close relationship with the child. In other cases, the physical custody is shared jointly.

In cases of joint physical custody, a child’s time is split between two homes. Both parents share the responsibility of daily decision-making on behalf of the child, ensuring that he or she is properly fed, attends school and receives medical and other essential care. Joint physical custody may be structured based on the needs of a child and the parents. In some cases, a child may spend part of the week with one parent and the remainder of the week with the other parent. In other cases, the physical time a child spends with each parent may alternate on a daily, weekly, monthly or yearly basis. When parents have joint physical custody, shared legal custody is also typically awarded.

If sole physical custody is awarded, a child lives with one parent who is designated as the caretaker. This parent is typically responsible for all day-to-day care and decision making. The non-custodial parent may be considered a secondary caretaker if visitation rights and parenting time are awarded.

As parents consider joint physical custody issues, there may be concerns about stability in a child’s educational and social settings. This type of shared physical custody may be more manageable if parents live in close proximity to each other. These concerns might be discussed during mediation as the terms of a divorce are negotiated.

Source: Womens’ Law, “What options are there for physical custody?“, October 17, 2014