The terms joint legal custody and joint physical custody are often misunderstood in California. Joint legal custody refers to the ‘ability of the parents to jointly make legal decisions regarding their minor child’. California Family Code section 3003 states that parents who have been joint legal custody have the right to make decisions regarding the health, education, and welfare of the minor children. Joint legal custody may allow parents to jointly determine what school a minor child can attend, if the minor child will be trained in a particular religion, the decision to attend counseling, who will be the minor child’s doctor, in what extracurricular activities the child will participate, travel outside of the state of California, and the right to have that parent’s name on the school notification card among other items. However, if a court orders joint legal custody, it does not mean that all decisions have to be made jointly. Pursuant to California Family Code section 3083, the court must specify which decisions the parents must make jointly and the consequence for the failure to make those decisions jointly. If the court does not do so, then either party may act alone.
Joint physical custody is the parents’ ability to share custody of the minor child. If an Orange County Court orders the parties to have joint physical custody, it does not mean that the parties each have equal custody, it merely means that both parties have substantial visitation. Usually, if one parent has little or no visitation with the minor children, then the other parent will have sole physical custody. If a parent has sole physical custody, he or she can make decisions such as the right to move the child away from the home state. However, even in those situations, the other parent must receive adequate notice in order to challenge the move-away in court.
An order of joint custody without specification as to “legal” or “physical” custody gives the parents the right to share in both legal custody and physical custody.
Please note that this legal advice does not establish a family law attorney-client relationship. This is a legal advertisement for Treviño Law, Inc., an Orange County family law firm.