Joint Physical Custody in California

The custody label that causes so much confusion

Learn about joint physical custody in California

Parents often think the terms "joint" physical custody automatically means a 50/50 custody schedule.

It does not. Let's dispel some myths and look at what California family law states about joint physical custody.

Joint physical custody requires significant periods of parenting time to each parent

Family Code 3004 states joint physical custody means both parents have significant periods of parenting time with the child.

Significant periods does not always mean equal time although equal time certainly qualifies as joint physical custody.

The most important thing you should know about joint physical custody is the label of "joint", by itself, doesn't mean much.

For example, if two parents sign a stipulation and order (which is a fancy way of saying an agreement the court signs and causes to become an order) for joint physical custody but one parent in that same order only gets every other weekend parenting time while the other parent has all of the other time, it does not matter what the document stated about physical custody.

The parenting time is what ultimately matters

For these reasons, we believe it is more important for the parents to set forth the actual parenting time in detail and, in most instances, the more specific and clear the parenting time is, the less chance of disputes later on.

On that note, Family Code 3084 states:

"in making an order of joint physical custody, the court shall specify the rights of each parent to physical control of the child in sufficient detail to enable a parent deprived of that control to implement laws for relief of child snatching and kidnapping."

I like this code section because it tells the family law judge that you cannot just tell the parents they have joint physical custody without also giving sufficient detail about what the parenting plan is going to be.

Certainly, parents are free to agree to whatever they want and most of the time the court will sign off on it. But if the decision is left to the court, the Family Court should not take a shortcut and leave the parenting time vague.

This joint physical custody and parenting time order typically covers the following:

  1. The regular parenting schedule which is the typical Monday through Sunday schedule.
  2. A summer schedule that for many children may be different than the regular schedule if the children do not have school during the summer.
  3. A vacation schedule which is more common for children who are not infants so that each parent may enjoy dedicated time with the child or children on vacation.
  4. The holiday schedule which generally encompasses all the major holidays.

Click on the links below for additional reading on physical custody.