Physical Custody

If you are in a custody dispute, you may hear many terms such as legal custody, physical custody, sole custody, joint custody, primary custody, and secondary custody used and it can be quite confusing to understand what they all mean.

Physical custody is generally what the main subject of dispute between parties is most often and refers to which parent has physical custody of the child and how much time each parent has with the child. The term sole custody is less often used in most modern custody orders and has been replaced with some of the other terms you would be more likely to see, such as primary custody, joint custody, and secondary custody.

Essentially part of the confusion among these terms is that they mean whatever the order says they mean. For example, an order may say that the parties shall have joint custody of the minor child, but this doesn’t necessarily mean that it will be equal time with each parent; it may mean that one parent has primary custody and the other has secondary custody in the form of visitation. Likewise, it may mean that each parent has equal or relatively equal custody, such as “week on, week off” custody, or some other custody arrangement that includes both parents having some amount of time with the child on a regular basis. Since all of these scenarios can be included within the term “joint custody” it is very important that the child custody order or parenting agreement define exactly what that custody arrangement is going to be.