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

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Who Has the Right to Custody During Noncustodial Visitation?

Custody trumps visitation. It is never changed or altered simply because a child is visiting with her non-custodial parent. The rights of a parent who has sole legal custody, sole physical custody or both remain intact until and unless a court modifies them by issuing a new custody order. Whether a child sleeps over at a friend’s house, her grandparent’s house or her non-custodial parent’s house, the custodial parent still has custody during those times, according to the terms of the court order. However, this does not mean the custodial parent always has unilateral control over everything involving her child.

What Gives You the Upper Hand for Custody?

Although each stage of a divorce can involve conflict, custody disputes have the potential to become the most emotional. However, in all states, the best interests of the child always take precedence over the wishes of the parents. Knowing the circumstances under which a judge may be more inclined to award you with greater parental rights will help you best prepare for your custody case.

How Old of an Infant for the Father to Have Custody Rights?

There is no set age at which a father suddenly has custody rights to his infant, though age can be considered in custody discussions. Though state custody laws and procedures vary, they are designed to allow courts to have flexibility when making custody determinations so that custody arrangements can fit the unique circumstances of each family. Thus, the level of custody a father receives depends on many factors, including the child’s age and circumstances.

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