What Is Physical Custody and What Are Its Advantages and Disadvantages

What Is Physical Custody

In the United States, child custody is further classified under two main categories, i.e., physical and legal custody. Physical custody is the right bestowed to a parent to live with their child after divorce or separation. This may either be joint or sole.

What is physical custody of a child?

There can be two kinds of custody-

1. What is primary physical custody?

As the name suggests, sole or primary custody involves only a single parent that will serve as the custodial parent.

2. What is shared custody?

On the other hand, joint or shared custody means that both parents are awarded the right to spend time living with the child, with both of the parents also sharing equal responsibility to their child’s physical care.

Visitation rights

A non-custodial parent in child custody may not be given the right to live with the child/children but are normally allowed visitation rights. By “visitation,” the child may be assigned a schedule, e.g. on weekends, to stay with the non-custodial parent. Many celebrity couples who went through or are going through a divorce have this set-up. One good and recent example is Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, where the former is only given supervised visitation rights to their children. Sole physical custody is given to the children’s mother.


Courts are reasonable in assigning visitation rights and quite open-minded about parents wanting “liberal” visitation or even shared parenting. The latter is quite popular nowadays, which is also referred to as co-parenting. However, co-parenting is more commonly agreed upon between two estranged couple without having to go through legal proceedings or child custody cases.

Numerous divorced celebrity couples are into shared parenting or co-parenting. Some of them include Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner, Demi Moore and Bruce Willis, Reese Witherspoon and Ryan Philippe, Courtney Cox and David Arquette, Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony, Kourtney Cox and Scott Disick and, Rob Kardashian and Blac Chyna, to name a few. They are of the belief that doing this is to the child/children’s best interest.

Custody generally addresses the location where the child will live as well as the length of time. It also dictates who will have the right and responsibility to decide for the child in matters such as well-being and daily activities.   

Joint custody, though commonly referred to as shared custody, did not always mean that the parents will share equal time living with the child. Instead, the parents could set forth explicit guidelines and schedule when the child will be with each parent. However, the costs involved in raising the child are normally shared according to the capacity of each one.

Currently, courts shifted towards awarding joint custody more often with the child’s interest in mind. This is because there are many advantages associated with this arrangement.

Advantages of physical custody

  •  Each parent will have an influence on their child while growing up;
  • Connection with both parents will be established;
  • One parent will not feel lesser than the other;
  •  Expenses will be shared, thus allowing each parent more ease with finances;
  •  The child will not need to take sides if both parents are present in his/her life;

However, just as there are benefits, there could also be disadvantages.  

Disadvantages of physical custody

  • Having to live in two homes, the child might need some adaption period before becoming comfortable with the situation; 
  • In cases where the two homes are far apart, the child may have a hard time physically to go from one house to the other. The time spent on traveling back and forth may be used for other more useful activities;
  • Custody exchanges may result in a disruptive and stressful situation for the child;
  • For a child with parents who are conflicting, such conflict may be heightened when going through custody exchanges, thus adversely affecting the child.

The parents are in the best position to know the best for their child after weighing the benefits of joint and primary physical custody. In going through child custody proceedings therefore, they should keep their child’s welfare in mind more than anything else.

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