Joint and Sole Physical Custody / by Cassandra Hearn


In any divorce or custody action, one question frequently asked is: what exactly is physical custody?  Who will be named the physical custodian?  What is the difference between joint and sole physical custody? Understanding the differences and the legal requirements for joint and sole physical custody is an important component of any custody case.


Physical custody refers to where the child lives and who is responsible for the child's day-to-day care. Joint physical custody means that both parents have equal amounts of parenting time with the child. Neither parent is the custodial or non-custodial parent. A custody order for joint physical custody will typically mean that the parents enjoy equal, or almost equal, time with the child or children, subject to a specific schedule set out in a custody order.


That is very different from the definition of "sole physical custody."  With sole physical custody, one parent will be the only custodial parent.  In San Diego County, the term “sole physical custody” usually means that the non-custodial parent has no visits.  It is pretty rare that a parent will have zero visits.  More likely, and in the vast majority of cases, one parent will be considered the primary custodial parent (or primary caregiver) and the parent with less custody time is called the non-custodial parent. The non-custodial parent will still receive visitation, including overnight visits. The custody order will specifically provide for a visitation schedule, holiday sharing, and similar time division between the two parents.


In making the decision on whether the child will be shared in a joint physical custody arrangement or whether one parent will be the sole physical custodian, the court will look to the child's best interest. Joint physical custody is not always an appropriate solution for every family.


If you would like to better understand the difference between joint and sole physical custody, we would value the opportunity to discuss it with you. Call us today at 619-800-0384 so we can discuss your case and what could benefit your children.