Both parents must agree to joint physical custody in a California divorce case, but in a growing number of states, it is the default. After decades of believing that children should have a primary residence with one parent because it is more stable, courts are now shifting to a belief that children do better if they have equal time with both parents.
There are a number of reasons for this shift. One is the realization that giving sole physical custody to one parent and visitation to the other may result in a situation in which the parent without custody is the "fun" parent but does not actually take on critical parenting tasks. Experts also believe that parents may take on different roles with their children in a way that is less likely with a single parent. For example, one parent might emphasize physical play while the other might strengthen a child's emotional development. Advocates for joint physical custody say that studies back them up. According to a study conducted in 2007, children who spent at least 35 percent of the time with both parents experienced fewer health problems and less incidence of depression.
Both Missouri and Utah have made joint physical custody the default, but in other states, such a bill has failed. Furthermore, some judges might still lean toward seeing the mother as the primary caregiver.
Parents may want to consider that there are a number of options available in a child custody case, and they might want to initially try mediation to see if they can work out an agreement in that way. For example, they might agree to have the children live in one place while they alternate staying there. Even if this is not possible financially and logistically, in mediation, parents may be able to reach a custody agreement that works best for all concerned.