What Is Secondary Custody?

By Mary Jane Freeman

Courts often decide custody matters during a divorce. This includes both decision-making authority and where the child lives. Although terminology can differ among states, the parent who spends the least amount of time with the child is often described as having secondary custody.

Courts often decide custody matters during a divorce. This includes both decision-making authority and where the child lives. Although terminology can differ among states, the parent who spends the least amount of time with the child is often described as having secondary custody.

Secondary Custody Means Less Time

Custody is split into two types -- physical and legal. When a parent has legal custody, he has the power to make important decisions about his child's welfare, such as medical care and religion. Courts can award legal custody to one or both parents. In contrast, a parent who has physical custody provides a home for the child. Like legal custody, physical custody can be sole or joint; courts often award physical custody to one parent, so that the child has a consistent living environment. When this happens, the other parent is usually granted visitation rights and pays child support. The parent who has physical custody -- or who spends more time with the child -- is sometimes described as having primary custody and the parent with visitation -- or who spends less time with the child -- is sometimes described as having secondary custody.

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Divorce is never easy, but we can help. Learn More
What Gives You the Upper Hand for Custody?

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What Is the Difference Between Custodial Parent & Primary Physical Custody?

During your divorce, the court awards physical custody -- which determines where your child resides -- to either you, your spouse or both of you. If the court awards physical custody to only one of you, or your child lives with one parent most of the time, that parent will be known as your child's custodial parent, which also is described as having primary physical custody. The terms custodial parent and primary physical custody usually describe the same type of custody arrangement.

Can I Have Joint Custody When the Mother Has Primary Physical Custody?

Effectively dividing parenting responsibilities between two parents who live apart is no easy task. From the parent's perspective, understanding how the court differentiates between legal custody and physical custody can be helpful, particularly in cases where a judge may award sole physical custody to one parent, but shared legal custody to both parents. It is important to note that while each state makes a distinction between physical and legal custody, the applicable laws vary from state to state.

Nebraska Divorce Standards for Child Custody

Child custody standards, like many other aspects of divorce and family law, vary by state, so Nebraska courts apply Nebraska laws when deciding custody issues during a divorce. Spouses can agree on the best arrangement, or the court can decide on its own. Either way, the court’s primary concern is finding an arrangement that is in the best interests of the child.

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