What Is the Meaning of Primary Custodian?

By Beverly Bird

When the word primary is used in connection with custody, it usually relates to physical custody – which parent your children will live with after your divorce. The primary parent or custodian has possession of the children the majority of the time, but different states use various terms for dealing with this legal concept.

Determining Custody

If you live in New Jersey, the primary custodian is called the parent of primary residence. Illinois uses the term primary custodian or residential custodian. By any name, if you and your spouse can't reach a parenting plan on your own, the court will decide which of you should be the primary parent based on the best interests of the child. In some states, a statute will list factors that the judge must consider to determine who the most suitable custodial parent is.

Visitation Rights

When one parent has primary custody, it doesn't mean the other parent won't get to see his children. It simply means your children will probably not be dividing their time equally between your home and your ex's residence. Your visitation schedule with your children can be whatever you and your spouse agree on, or the court may fall back on a standard parenting schedule if you can't agree, such as every other weekend and one weekday evening.

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Legal Custody

Legal custody is different from physical custody – it's the right of one or both parents to make important decisions relating to your children's upbringing. The primary custodial parent does not automatically have sole legal custody as well.

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Rights of Divorced Parents Sharing Custody of a Child

References

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Custody is a serious decision that comes into play when parents are no longer married to each other. Unless both parents come to a mutual agreement, a court will dictate which parent the child will live with, who will be responsible for critical decisions relating to the child and whether both parents will share legal or physical custody. Custody arrangements can be modified, and are typically used until the child reaches adulthood -- which is age 18, in most states. Custody determinations are made in accordance with the best interests of the child. Custody is also a concept of state law, and the concept varies by state; its terminology, however, is typically universally accepted. For example, legal custody is not defined in Hawaii state law, but attorneys use the term, because its meaning is universally understood. There are four major custody arrangements, with the differences being which parent is able to make important decisions for the child and where the child will live.

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Child custody is one of the biggest issues to negotiate when going through a divorce. There are many ways to handle placement of children and this is often one of the more emotional parts of a divorce proceeding. However, when divorcing couples can come to an agreement that works for the family, the children benefit in the end.

In a Divorce Proceeding Do You File for Divorce or Child Custody First?

If you have children, divorce and custody go hand in hand. Filing for divorce automatically addresses child custody issues as well. If you want to end your marriage, you would address custody of the children when you file your complaint or petition for divorce.

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