Physical custody involves the day-to-day care of a child and establishes where a child will live. A parent with physical custody has the right to have his/her child live with him/her.
If a child lives with both parents, each parent shares “joint physical custody” and each parent is said to be a “custodial parent”. Thus, in joint physical custody, neither parent is said to be a “non-custodial parent.” In joint physical custody, actual lodging and care of the child is shared according to a court-ordered custody schedule (also known as a “parenting plan” or “parenting schedule”) In many cases, the term “visitation” is no longer used in this context, but rather is reserved to sole custody orders. Terms of art such as “primary custodial parent” and “primary residence” have no legal meaning other than for determining tax status, and both parents are still said to be “custodial parents”.
In some states, “joint physical custody” creates a presumption of “equal shared parenting”. However, in most states, joint physical custody only creates an obligation to provide each of the parents with “significant periods” of physical custody so as to assure the child of “frequent and continuing contact” with both parents. Courts have not clearly defined what “significant periods” and “frequent and continuous contact” mean, which requires parents to litigate to find out.
If a child lives with one parent, that parent has “sole physical custody” and is said to be the “custodial parent” whereas the other parent is said to be the “non-custodial parent”, but may have visitation rights or “visitation” with his/her child.