The Post-Divorce-Parenting Glossary

Divorced-Parenting Term

Physical Custody

   Physical custody is a term that is used often in child custody cases following a divorce or separation, that clarifies who and where the child involved in the custody case will live.  The parent with physical custody provides shelter and care for the child.
   What is physical custody vs. legal custody?
   While physical custody describes where the child lives, legal custody defines who has the responsibility to make decisions on the child's behalf.  Physical custody and legal custody are two entirely different types of custody.  It is quite common for one parent to have physical custody while the non-custodial parent has joint legal custody over the child.  What this means is that while the child lives most of the time with the primary-custodial parent, both parents must share in the decision-making roles.
   Can both parents have physical custody after a divorce?
   Yes.  When both parents are awarded physical custody, they are said to have joint physical custody or shared physical custody.  This means that an approximately equal amount of time will be spent with both the mother and the father.  In a joint physical custody arrangement, both parents are considered to be a custodial parent.
   Will sole physical custody be awarded to one parent?
   Sole custody means that the physical residence of the child is at only one location, with one parent, but even in sole custody arrangements, the non-custodial parent will likely be granted significant visitation rights and sleepovers.   In deciding what type of custodial arrangement to give to the parents, the court will perform a "best interest" analysis, in order to ascertain what custodial arrangement is in the best interest of the child.
   For sole physical custody to be awarded, the judge must feel that one parent having sole physical custody is in the child's best interest.
   Can the parent with sole physical custody move of state?
   If a divorced parent who has primary custody is planning to relocate with the children, the parent should first check the custody orders to see if there are restrictions that prevent relocation.  If the custodial parent does not find a restriction, and proceeds to move, then the non-custodial parent can file a relocation case to prevent the move.  If the primary custodial parent reviews the custody order and finds a restriction, the the primary custodial parent may file a relocation case with the court to allow the move to take place.  How a judge will decide is uncertain, but the judge is likely to follow the best interest standards in arriving at a decision.
   How does physical custody work if the parents live far apart?
   Custody exchanges are much easier on both parents and children when the parents live close to one another.  The benefits of living close to each other are that the child can have a much more normal life with regard to sports, activities, and socialization with others.  When parents live far apart, sharing custody and dealing with visitation can become problematic and lead to high-conflict between the parents and resentment from the children.
   Still, living close together is not a necessity.  It makes life easier, but divorced couples that live far apart can and do make the situation work, especially if both parents communicate well, co-parent, or parallel parent their children.
   How do family courts decide which parent(s) will be awarded physical custody?
   Family courts follow the best interest doctrine when making custody decisions that significantly affect a child.  Typically, physical custody will be awarded in a way that minimizes stress and hardship for the child, but while still allowing an adequate amount of time with each parent.  If a parent desires to have joint physical custody, then living close to the other parent is important.  The further apart that parents live, the less frequent the number of visitations the child will have with the non-custodial parent.  Generally those visitations will be of longer duration than they would if the parents live closer together.


Explanation of Sole Physical Custody
Learn the pros and cons of sole legal custody.
Types of Child Custody
Wikipedia article that covers child custody types, including physical custody, joint physical custody, and sole physical custody.
Primary Physcial Custody
Wikipedia article primary physical custody.
Video - Physical Custody vs. Legal Custody
This video features a lawyer who describes the difference between physical and legal custody.

physical custody, moving, relocation, relocating after divorce

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