Partial custody is one of several child custody arrangements a court might award to a parent. When the parents of a child (or children) divorce or separate, typically, a court will decide upon how caretaking of the child and time spent with the child will be split between the parents. 

A parent that is awarded partial custody is not considered the primary custodial parent and therefore, spends less time with the child than the other parent. 

What are the Different Types of Child Custody Arrangements?

When the parents of a child divorce or separate, a judge typically determines custody arrangements for the child. Custody is the responsibility that a parent has for their child. There are several different types of custody possibilities that a court may award, which may include:

  • Legal Custody: Obtaining legal custody of a child gives the parent the right to make important decisions about raising their child. This can include: medical decisions, educational choices as well as religious/spiritual upbringing;
  • Physical Custody: The physical custody of a child deals with where the child lives. If a parent has physical custody of a child, this means that the child lives with that parent most of the time;
  • Joint Custody: Often, a court will award joint custody to the parents. This entails the parents sharing the parental responsibilities of their child. The parents may have joint legal and joint physical custody and share in all the responsibilities. There are situations where the parents have joint legal custody but not joint physical custody. An example of when this may arise is if the parents do not reside geographically close to each other. In this situation, it makes more sense for the child to live with one parent most of the time, especially during the school year. Arrangements can be made for the child to travel and spend time with the other parent during school breaks;
  • Partial Custody: Partial custody occurs when a parent is awarded less than half of the custodial time with their child. The other parent is considered to be the primary custodial parent. Visitation is a term sometimes used to refer to a non-custodial parent spending time with their child. The court may impose supervised visitation requirements if the court believes that the child may not be safe alone with the non-custodial parent. A supervised visitation basically means that a court-approved adult must also be present during the interaction of the child and the non-custodial parent; and
  • Sole Custody: This occurs when a court awards one parent legal and physical custody of their child. The parent with sole custody is fully responsible for the upbringing of their child. Depending on the circumstances, the non-custodial parent may still have rights to visit with their child.

How does a Court Decide Child Custody Awards?

The court reviews all factors involved in a child custody case to ultimately determine the best interest of a child. Most all decisions will revolve around this one very important question, “Is this in the best interest of the child?”

In weighing their custody decision and whether or not something is in the best interest of a child, the court reviews several factors, including, but not limited to:

  • Age of the child;
  • Health (mental and physical) of the parents;
  • Stability of parents (for example, whether or not the parent has a steady job);
  • Current living situation of the parent;
  • Relationship between the child and parent;
  • Whether or not one parent has been the sole provider for the child in the past;
  • Whether or not a parent has a criminal past that can negatively impact the child (for example, a criminal record that involves abuse of a child); and/or 
  • Wishes of the child.

It is also possible for the parents to come up with a mutually agreeable parenting plan.  The parents decide what the arrangement for the child will be and can have the court review and approve the parenting plan.

Can Child Custody Awards Change?

Child custody awards can be altered. If a parent can show that there is a valid change in circumstances that warrant a change in the custodial plan, a court may make a change in the custodial plan. Change in circumstances may include: new living arrangements, including moving closer to the custodial parent and child, a job promotion and achieving milestones in health and/or mental health status. 

While the court will review the change in circumstances it does not automatically infer a change in the custodial plan. The court will always first consider whether or not a change in the custodial plan is in the best interest of the child.

Do I Need an Attorney to Assist with my Child Custody Case?

Going through a divorce or separation can be a difficult and emotional life event. When children are involved in a divorce or separation, it can be even more difficult to cover all the factors of the custodial arrangement thoroughly. 

Child custody law is a complex field. It is a good idea to have an experienced child custody attorney by your side to assist you in obtaining the custody agreement that works best for you and is in the best interest of your child.