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Difference between primary physical and sole physical custody

Decatur, GA |

If I want the other parent to have the child every other weekend, would this be considered sole custody for me with visitation, or would it be joint physical custody with me as the primary?

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Attorney answers 4


This would be joint legal custody with you being the primary physical custodian. Confused? You are not alone. Many persons grapple with the terminology. Sole custody -with some exceptions- basically means that one party does not have to consider the input of the other party in making parenting decisions for the children. Sole custody is seldom awarded in most divorce or custody proceedings.


Joint physical custody with you as the primary. Sole custody is relegated for situations where one parent is a "bad" parent and is rare. HOWEVER, you are asking a technical legal question about custody. This is a question for your attorney IF there is an ongoing custody/divorce action. If you do not have an attorney, please get one!!! Many folks regret not having an attorney, even if it just as a guide and you already know what you want.

The information is for general information purposes only. Receipt of this information or e-mail from our website, or other communications should NOT be construed as legal advice for any individual case or situation, nor the formation of an attorney-client relationship.


Your confusion is very common!

What you've described is joint legal custody with you having primary custody and the other parent having secondary. Sole physical custody would mean that the other parent would not have rights to any overnights with the child.

The above answer is a general explanation of legal rights and procedures. It does not constitute legal advice. Nor does it establish an attorney-client relationship between the individual posting the question and the attorney providing the answer.


People get very bogged down on the words joint and sole when talking about custody (phyisical and legal).

The real truth is that while the words have some meaning, their real importance depends on the words used to flesh them out - the actual hours and conditions and terms set forth in the parenting plan, court order, and, if applicable, separation agreement.

And that is why having a lawyer in these cases is so critical. A lawyer can make sure those details are done properly.

To answer your question, the arrangement you mention could be drafted both as sole custody or joint, and there may be good reasons to do either.

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