Is there a difference between Visitation and Parenting Time in California?

“Visitation” was the term used for the time the noncustodial parent spends with their children. For those of us of a certain age, it is the term that we grew up with and heard if our parents or our friend’s parents were divorced. In many states, the word “Visitation” has fallen out of favor with the thought that when a noncustodial parent is with their children, they are still a parent responsible for the child and making decisions, even if they are only immediate decisions such as where they will eat and what activities they will participate in. Language is always evolving, and new terminology emerges to better describe a situation. A parent is not just visiting with their child, they are spending time and continually developing their parent and child relationship.

To better describe the role of a noncustodial parent, the term “parenting time” came about.

What does “noncustodial parent” mean?

As we have discussed on multiple occasions, there are two types of custody: legal and physical. Legal custody is related to who has the right to make important life decisions for a minor child, including decisions related to education, health, and religion. Legal custody can be granted to a single parent, or it can be granted jointly to both parents. A parent may have legal custody of a child even if the child doesn’t regularly live with them.

Where the child lives relates to physical custody. Like legal custody, physical custody may be granted to a single parent or joint custody can be granted to both parents. Joint physical custody does not mean that a child spends the same amount of time with both parents. It could be a substantially equal timeshare, or it could be that the child lives with one parent a greater amount of the time. So even when there is joint physical custody, the children can spend most of their time with one parent while spending regular and scheduled time with the other parent.

If one parent is granted sole physical custody, the other parent is considered the noncustodial parent. When the parties are granted joint physical custody, the noncustodial parent is the parent that does not have responsibility for the children during that time period. Being a noncustodial parent doesn’t impact the divorce agreement related to legal or physical custody. If joint custody is granted, the noncustodial parent is not considered to be less responsible for the children just because the children spend more time with their other parent.

The change from “visitation” to “parenting time” was made to better represent the nature of the time parents are spending with their children, however, form a standpoint of the law and legal definitions, “visitation” and “parenting time” represent the same thing: the time the noncustodial parent spends with their children. While the new phrase is recommended and has been around for a number of years already, the term “visitation” has not been completely abandoned. On the California Court’s website, the term Parenting Time is the primary phrase that is used, but “visitation” is still there in parentheses to avoid confusion for the people who, up until now, didn’t realize the old phrase has fallen out of favor.

If you have any questions related to legal or physical custody or parenting time, call TDC Family Law at 408-267-8484. Tracy Duell-Cazes is a Certified Family Law Attorney with over 30 years of California Family Law experience.


1530 The Alameda, Suite 108
San Jose, CA 95126

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