Physical Custody: What does it mean? – Stauff & Gross Law

The idea of going to court for custody of your children is a stressful thought alone. Combine that with legal terms and questions being thrown at you by the opposing attorney and the judge, and it can become overwhelming. Understanding what these legal terms mean will hopefully give you an idea of what to expect and help decrease the stress level while in court. In the coming weeks we hope to fully explain all of the legal terms surrounding custody including, physical custody, legal custody, sole custody, primary custody, joint custody, secondary custody, and visitation.

A child custody order must specify where a child will live (physical custody) and whether one or both parents can make decisions about the child (legal custody). The terms sole, primary, secondary, and joint custody, as well as the term visitation, are the terms that describe the quantity each parent has of the physical and legal custody of the minor child(ren). This week we will explore the term physical custody and the different terms used to describe how much physical custody each parent has with the child(ren).

The term sole physical custody applies where the children live with one parent only and the other parent does not have any visitation. Sole physical custody is rare and usually only occurs when the other parent is unfit, has abused or neglected the child(ren), or has abandoned the child(ren) and is not involved in their lives (check back in the coming weeks for a better explanation of these terms). Even if one of these situations applies, the other parent may still receive visitation that is either supervised or significantly limited. If this parent receives any visitation, then the parents have joint physical custody rather than one parent having sole physical custody.

Joint physical custody describes when both parents have some sort of physical time with the child(ren), whether it is supervised or unsupervised and regardless of how much or how little physical time each parent has. Joint physical custody can also describe an equal split of time with the children though, which is commonly referred to as a 50/50 split of physical custody.

For example, primary and secondary physical custody are forms of joint physical custody because each parent has time with the children.

When the parents do not have an equal share of physical time with the children, the parent with more physical time has primary physical custody and the other parent has secondary physical custody in the form of visitation. For example, when one parent has the children every other weekend only, this parent has secondary physical custody in the form of visitation. The other parent has primary physical custody of the children.

If you want to discuss your particular physical custodial arrangement or how to change it, you can call 919-576-7550 to schedule a consultation with one of our family law attorneys. Each case is unique and is important to talk to an attorney about the facts specific to your individual case.

Check back next week for an explanation of legal custody.