What does it mean to have primary custody?

by chammondzettersten | Dec 18, 2019 | Firm News

Custody is a major concern, if not the top one, for divorcing parents in Tennessee. It is easy to begin the divorce process with misconceptions about how custody works, especially if one parent is adamant about having sole physical custody and decision-making authority regarding the care of the children. 

It is important to know that in most cases, family law courts prefer that both parents have a relationship with the children and make decisions regarding their care and well-being. Even so, the definitions for sole, physical and legal custody can sometimes be confusing. 

Joint and legal custody 

Until recently, one parent had physical custody, meaning the children spend most of their time in the custodial – or primary – house. They may spend weekends, alternating holidays and several weeks during the summer at the non-custodial parent’s home (known as visitation). In primary custodial situations, both parents may also receive joint legal custody, meaning that they have an equal say in making important decisions on raising their children. More commonly today, the courts often award both parents joint physical custody, which meant the children spent an equal amount of time living in each parent’s home. While this arrangement was beneficial for parents who wanted to be as involved as possible in their kids’ upbringing, it could be stressful and disruptive for kids to rotate between homes frequently.

Determining custody 

When divorced parents can cooperate and make decisions based on the best interests of the children, a primary physical custody arrangement can be good for their kids. However, each family’s situation is different, necessitating courts to determine custody on a case-by-case basis. The best interests of the children are always considered when deciding custody. In some cases – usually due to substance abuse, domestic violence or neglect – it is not ideal for both parents to share the decision-making responsibilities or to have unsupervised visitation with the children.

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