What is Joint Physical Custody?

If you are a divorced or separated parent, you probably share physical custody of your child or children. This means you are with your child physically, spend time with them, and supervise your child. The law presumes a child is better off spending time with both their parents, though custody rights can be limited depending on the situation. 

What is Custody? 

There are two types: 

  • Legal custody gives the adult the right to make important decisions for the child. This covers essential issues like medical care, legal issues, education, and religious practices or beliefs. 
  • Physical custody refers to who is physically with and overseeing the child.

One person has sole legal custody of a child, or it is shared. Physical custody is: 

  • Sole: One person has these rights, and the child spends their time with them. 
  • Joint or Shared: Normally, two people have these rights. The child spends about half their time with each. 
  • Primary: The child spends most of their time with one adult. 
  • Partial: The child spends some time with this person, the rest with the party having primary physical custody. 

If the parties cannot agree on who should have physical custody and what type, the issue can be litigated, and a judge will decide the issue based on the child’s best interests. If there is an agreement, the judge will review and possibly reject it based on the same standard. 

How Does Joint Physical Custody Work? 

In most cases, the ideal joint physical custody arrangement will be for the child to spend the same time with each parent or close to it. Practical realities often stand in the way of that perfect outcome, such as: 

  • The distance between the parents’ homes 
  • Where the child attends school 
  • The parents’ work schedules 
  • The child’s after-school activities and schedule 

To try to deal with these limitations, the parties should come up with a parenting time plan (which is submitted to the court as part of the custody process). Parenting time is the time a parent spends with a child. The plan maps out which parent will spend what time with the child. The parties should look at their situations and develop the best plan possible. They should try it, and if it is not workable, be flexible enough to adjust it. 

What are Our Options? 

A common approach is a 2, 2, 3 schedule. One parent has the child Monday and Tuesday nights, the other has Wednesday and Thursday nights, and the parents alternate weekly for Friday through Sunday. This presumes the child is too young for school, or the parents’ homes are close enough for the child to attend the same school, and neither parent works nights or weekends. 

Another way to share physical custody is to find a way to equally split time by the child being with one parent during the school year, weekends are shared between the two parents, holidays are split, and the other parent has the child when school is not in session. This approach is more practical if the parents do not live in the same area. 

This is not about a child punching a clock, so they are with a parent precisely half the time. The focus should not be on an equal quantity of time, but on maximizing the quality of time the child has with each parent, given everyone’s schedules and commitments. 

Child Custody Lawyers You Can Trust   

If you have questions about physical custody or want legal representation in a custody matter, call Karen Ann Ulmer, P.C., at (215) 752-6200 today.