The Difference Between Physical Custody and Joint Physical Custody

Updated 05/13/19
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Parents going through the divorce process may be given either physical custody or joint physical custody.

Physical Custody

If a parent is awarded physical custody the child resides with that parent and a visitation schedule is set up for the other non-custodial parent. Your divorce decree may state that you have “physical custody” or “sole physical custody.”

For example, your child may live with their mother the majority of the time and “visit” with the non-custodial parent every other weekend. Courts are fairly open-minded when it comes to a visitation schedule. If you are a parent who does not or cannot take sole physical custody you have the right to request “liberal” visitation with your child. Or, you can request shared or 50/50 custody so parenting duties are split equally between both parents. 

The mistake some non-custodial parents make is not defining what “liberal” means in their divorce decree. If you are the non-custodial parent it is in your best interest that your final divorce decree plainly states your visitation schedule.

If you desire visitation with your child every other weekend and one night during the week make sure you list what night the child is to spend with you during the week in your custody and visitation agreement. Having a divorce decree that states “one night during the week” leaves you open to conflict when negotiating with your ex exactly which night your child will be with you.

The same can be said for visitation during holidays. Have your decree plainly state pick-up and drop-off times and dates for holidays and other special dates. 

Joint Physical Custody

If you and your ex share joint physical custody, custody of your child will be split 50/50 or something close to that percentage. Joint physical custody sometimes called equal or shared custody is becoming more and more commonplace in today’s divorces.

For example, in a joint physical custody situation, the child could either spend equal amounts of time at each parent's home or, a judge may award a 40/60 split between the parent's homes. The child would move back and forth between the two homes and experience equal or near equal time in the care of each parent.

More fathers are requesting and being given the right to have equal parenting time or equal physical custody with their children after a divorce. For this to work, the parents should live close together and put forth every effort to co-parent or parallel parent in a civil manner.

I'm a strong believer in equal parenting time when a child has two loving parents who can put their child's needs first and work together in a positive manner. Divorce does not have to mean one parent being relegated to the role of visitor in their child's life. 

You may no longer love or, even like your ex. Your child, on the other hand, loves your ex and has a right to equal time with each parent. Under a joint physical custody order, your child will have two custodial parents, there will be no visitation schedule and unless there is a grave disparity between the income of the parents, child support may not be paid. 

Joint physical custody can only work if both parents are willing to put effort into developing a civil co-parenting relationship. Being able to effectively communicate and share your child is imperative if you have joint physical custody. 

During your divorce, as parents, you will have the opportunity to negotiate the custody of your children during the mediation stage of the divorce process. As a father, you have the right to challenge custody in court if your wife refuses to share joint physical custody during mediation and negotiation of custody. 

Don't be forced into taking less custody than you desire out of a fear of losing, should you have to go to court. As I said earlier, children need two good parents and your time with your child is worth fighting for.

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