What Is Secondary Custody?
By Mary Jane Freeman
Updated March 30, 2020
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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.
Based on the West Coast, Mary Jane Freeman has been writing professionally since 1994, specializing in the topics of business and law. Freeman's work has appeared in a variety of publications, including LegalZoom, Essence, Reuters and Chicago Sun-Times. Freeman holds a Master of Science in public policy and management and Juris Doctor. Freeman is self-employed and works as a policy analyst and legal consultant.