There are two parts to child custody. One is physical custody, which is the right of a parent to have a child live with them. The other is legal custody, which is the right to make decisions about how the child is brought up. 

Partial custody rights make up one of several child custody arrangements that 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 divided between the parents. 

A parent that is awarded partial custody is not considered the primary custodial parent. Under partial custody laws, a parent with partial custody spends less time with the child than the other parent. Or, if the partial custody is partial legal custody, the parent with partial legal custody has less of a say in how the child is raised than the other parent. 

What Are the Different Types of Child Custody Arrangements?

The three main forms of custody as follows:

  • Sole Custody: If a parent has sole custody, that parent has primary custody. If one parent has sole physical custody, then the child lives only with that parent; the other parent has a right to visitation. If one parent has sole legal custody, then that parent has the right to make the decisions about how the child is raised, and the other parent does not have a right to participate in decision-making about the child;
  • Joint Custody: in a joint custody situation, the parents share custody, whether legal or physical. If the parents have joint legal custody, then they have an equal say in how their child is raised. If they have joint physical custody, then the child spends a significant portion of its time with both parents; the child might even live part-time with each parent. Joint legal and physical custody would involve sharing a combination of the two types of custody.
  • Partial Custody: in a partial custody situation, one parent has primary custody and has the child for most of the time. The parent with primary physical custody may have primary legal custody as well, so the parent with partial custody will spend less time with the child than the other, and may often have fewer legal custody rights as well. This could mean that the parent with primary custody makes all of the legal decisions for the child, while the parent with partial custody makes none of those decisions. It is also possible, however, for a parent with partial custody to have the right to make some legal decisions for their child, but not all of them.

A parent with partial custody does not live with the child and spends less time with the child. So, a parent with partial custody is often responsible for paying child support to the parent who has primary custody. The child support arrangement varies from state to state and depends also on individual circumstances, but often a noncustodial parent can expect to pay child support to the parent with whom the child lives.

What Does Partial Physical Custody Mean?

Physical custody refers to where the child lives. If one parent has partial physical custody, then the child lives exclusively with the other parent, and the parent with partial physical custody has visitation rights.

How Does a Court Decide Child Custody Awards?

In order to obtain partial custody of a child, a parent would have to initiate a court proceeding. The method for doing this varies from state to state, but in many courts a child custody proceeding is initiated by a petition for child custody.

The court holds a hearing to take evidence and hear the arguments of the two sides, if the case is contested, i.e., if one of the parents contests the right of the other to have partial custody. In making a decision, the court considers a number of different factors, however the standard for decision the court applies is what is in the best interests of the child.

The court’s analysis will typically include the following considerations:

  • The mental well-being and physical fitness of each parent;
  • Any decisions or comments that come from state agencies, such as a child welfare department;
  • Whether the child has any special needs that require more attention, such as medical issues;
  • How well the child is adjusted to their current living situation (e.g., their home environment, school, neighborhood, friends, and so on);
  • The separate financial background of each parent; and
  • In some cases, which parent the child prefers, and if it would be in their best interest to remain with that parent.

The judge may also consider any previous custody agreements or admissions made by the parties outside of court, such as during a family mediation meeting

Whether the court makes the decision on its own or relies on the custody agreement that the parties entered into voluntarily, it will formalize its decision in an order. This has the effect of making the custody arrangement legally enforceable by law. 

Therefore, if one of the parties violates the order, they could face serious legal repercussions, including losing their custodial, visitation, and other parental rights. In some cases, a violation could also lead to criminal consequences, such as having to pay fines or serve jail time. 

Can Child Custody Awards Change?

Child custody awards can change. Usually they would change to reflect changes in the circumstances of the parents or possibly the child. One parent may not have been awarded even partial custody, because of some negative factor in their lives that can be removed. In that case, the parent may want increased custody rights. For example, one parent may have been incarcerated and has been released. This parent may seek partial custody and the opportunity for visitation.

In certain instances, custody rights can also be lost or revoked. Some of these circumstances include the following:

  • A parent is facing criminal charges or has violated the law;
  • There was a violation of the child custody order or visitation rights; 
  • The parent has been incarcerated, or is deceased, or incapacitated; 
  • There were incidents that threatened the well-being of the child, such as domestic violence, child abuse, child neglect, or other similar kinds of concerns.

If one of the above scenarios arises, or if there is a significant life event that impacts the current shared custody arrangement, then the parties may seek to have their agreement modified by the court. 

While the court takes changes in circumstances into consideration, when deciding whether or not to modify the parties’ custody arrangement, the judge is not automatically required to grant a change as requested by one of the parties. 

Thus, if you are seeking to have a partial custody arrangement altered, then you should strongly consider hiring an attorney to advocate on your behalf.

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

Regardless of the type of custody arrangement you are seeking, child custody cases can be challenging in general. It is best to have an experienced child custody lawyer to represent your interest. Procedurally, custody hearings can be difficult because partial custody laws often vary by state and decisions are usually made on a case by case basis.

Depending on the quality of the relationship between the parents, child custody cases can also take an emotional toll on everyone involved, especially the child. Therefore, if you are entering into a partial custody arrangement, you may want to consider hiring a local child custody lawyer for further assistance. 

A qualified child custody lawyer will be able to help you with submitting your request for partial custody of your child, can efficiently guide you through the process regarding a partial custody arrangement, and can represent you during either a mediation session, or in a court of law. 

Additionally, an attorney can also help with the process of modifying a custody agreement in the event that your circumstances have changed.