California has two types of custody: legal and physical, both of which can be held either jointly by both parents, or solely by one parent.
Legal custody refers to the ability of parents to make decisions about the health, education, and welfare of their children, and it is most often thought of as the authority a parent has to sign off or grant authority for medical care, field trips, sports activities, etc., or any other activity where parental consent is required. Legal custody has nothing to do with the amount of time a child spends with a particular parent, but has everything to do with the quality of parental judgment a parent has demonstrated. Joint legal custody is appropriate when both parents exercise good judgment; sole legal custody is appropriate when only one parent is able to exercise good judgment.
Physical custody refers to the amount of time that children generally spend with their parents. Joint physical custody doesn’t necessarily mean that the parents have a 50/50 timeshare, and sole custody doesn’t necessarily mean that one parent has the children 100% of the time. Joint physical custody occurs when both parents have significant periods of physical custody of the children. Joint physical custody must be shared in a way that ensures that the children have “frequent and continuing contact” with both parents. Sole physical custody means that the children reside with one parent, subject to the court’s power to order parenting time with the other parent.
“Parenting plans” are how we now refer to what used to be known as “visitation”. Parenting plans refer to the specific time sharing arrangements of the parents and their children. They usually include at least three specific types of parenting plans: a regular parenting plan, which is effective when children are attending school; a holiday parenting plan, which supersedes the regular plan, and is effective during holidays; and a summer parenting plan, which is in effect during summer recess. These plans can be as specific or generalized as the children (and their parents) need. In mediation and collaborative practice, parenting plans can be developed to address the specific needs of the children, as well as the real world scheduling issues of the parents.