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 refers to which parent has physical custody of the child and primary references an unequal distribution of the child’s time with one parent having more time with the child than the other parent. The confusion arises in the use of this term since a parent can still have a joint custody arrangement with one parent having primary and the other parent having secondary.
The terms primary and secondary custody are frequently used in both parenting agreements and custody orders. (By the way, whether it is a parenting agreement, a child custody consent order, or you had a hearing with the judge and he or she ruled on your matter and you have a child custody order, they are all equally enforceable by the court so long as the order or agreement has been signed by the judge). Often times, an order will read that the parties shall have joint custody, with one parent having primary custody and the other parent having secondary custody in the form of visitation and then will go on to further define and detail that visitation schedule. Again, this just means that one parent is going to have more physical custody time than the other parent.
While the terms used in a custody order or parenting agreement may be confusing, it is important to keep in mind that these terms are really going to be defined by the details of your order or parenting agreement and don’t always mean the same thing in every situation.