Definition of Physical Custody

Decisions regarding physical custody after divorce will determine where the child will reside or live following a divorce or separation. Physical custody can be either joint physical custody, where the child spends equal time with both parents, or sole custody, where the child lives primarily with one parent, called the custodial parent, but has visitation with the non-custodial parent.

Sole physical custody is a popular child custody option because it allows the child to have a “home base” while retaining a relationship with the noncustodial parent. Proponents of this arrangement argue it is less disruptive for the child and is especially useful with younger children.

If you and your spouse agree to sole custody then the noncustodial parent will have visitation based on a predetermined schedule. Common visitation schedules include visits with the noncustodial parent one night each week and every other weekend. Under some conditions, the noncustodial parent may not have visitation rights if the courts determine they are a danger to the child.

Courts may also decide that parents should have joint physical custody of a child, which allows a child to share time between each parent’s home. Under this arrangement the child moves from one house to the other on a weekly or monthly basis, although the amount of time does not have to be equal. Proponents of joint physical custody argue it allows both parents to be fully engaged with their child while opponents argue it can be especially disruptive for younger children.

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