Physical Custody Options for All Types of Custody Agreements

types of custody agreements

Child custody is really two different things: legal custody, which has to do with who makes major decisions for a child, and physical custody, which refers to which adult a child lives with. With either physical custody or legal custody, there are various configurations. One parent might have sole custody, but it is much more common, with both legal and physical custody, for parents to have joint custody. South Carolina recognizes that it is important for children in most cases to have regular, consistent, ongoing contact with both parents. Accordingly, there are many types of custody agreements regarding how a child might spend time with both parents.

Before we dive into the various types of custody agreements, let’s take a moment to explore how parents might arrive at a physical custody arrangement. The best option is for parents to work out a physical custody agreement on their own, or with the help of their attorneys, rather than leaving it up to a judge to decide. The reason is simple: parents know their family better than anyone else. They know their work schedules, their kids’ needs, extracurricular activities, and other factors. Therefore, parents are in the best position to reach an agreement that works for their unique situation.

As with a joint legal custody agreement, courts will generally approve parents’ physical custody agreement, as long as it appears to be in the best interest of the child. If parents are unable to reach agreement through negotiation, mediation, or some other means, the court will consider the “best interests of the child” in coming up with a physical custody arrangement.

Types of Joint Physical Custody Agreements

Assuming that parents have joint physical custody and live within a reasonable distance of each other, there are a variety of possible custody arrangements. Joint physical custody doesn’t always mean that each parent has the child exactly 50% of the time, but most types of custody agreements for joint physical custody aim for something close to equal time. These arrangements could include:

  • Alternating weeks. This is just what it sounds like; the child lives in one parent’s home one week, and the other’s the following week. Advantages of this arrangement are that it is easy to remember and requires less-frequent moves than other plans. Disadvantages include that the child has to go longer stretches without seeing one parent.
  • 2/2/3. The child lives with one parent for two days, the other parent for two days, and back to the first parent for a three-day weekend. With this plan, parents end up alternating weekends with the child. Advantages include the child spending shorter periods away from each parent, and allowing both parents to participate in the child’s weekday activities. Disadvantages include frequent moves for the child, which can be disruptive. Because the child is not with the parent on the same weekday each week, it can also be confusing for some kids. If parents don’t live close together, the frequent exchanges may be time-consuming.
  • 5/2/2/5. With this arrangement, each parent has the same two weekdays with the child, say Monday and Tuesday or Wednesday and Thursday. They alternate Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Advantages include more predictability for the child (“It’s Tuesday, I’m at home with Mom tonight”). Disadvantages include frequent moves for the child and inconvenient exchanges for the parents if they don’t live near each other.
  • Nesting. This option is uncommon, likely because it requires commitment and sacrifice from both parents to work well. In nesting, the child stays in the same home all the time and the parents move in and out on an agreed schedule. Advantages include consistency and less disruption for the child; items don’t get left at one parent’s home or the other, and there’s no need to buy duplicates. Disadvantages include parents needing to find (and pay for) other lodging when it’s not their time to live with the child. Families who use a nesting system still need to create a schedule.

Sole or Primary Physical Custody

While joint physical custody is more common than one parent having sole or primary custody, sole custody is appropriate in some situations. Parents may agree for one of them to have primary physical custody if they live too far apart for joint custody to be practical, or if one parent is in the military and is deployed overseas. Courts may also order one parent to have sole physical custody if the other parent is not able to provide a safe and stable living environment for the child.

Even if one parent has sole or primary physical custody, the other will generally have some parenting time with the child unless there is a compelling reason that the child should not be in contact with the non-custodial parent, such as a history of abuse. Physical custody arrangements when one parent has sole custody include:

  • Alternating weekends. The child stays with the non-custodial parent every other weekend.
  • Alternating weekends with one evening during the week. The child has one afternoon/evening visit with the non-custodial parent each week. It usually takes place on the same night, and helps maintain a feeling of more regular contact between the alternate weekend visits.
  • Extended visits during school breaks. For parents who live far apart, joint physical custody may be impractical. A child may live primarily with one parent, and spend summers and other school breaks with the other to allow them to spend enough time together and maintain a strong relationship.
  • Supervised visitation. If it is not safe for the child to be in one parent’s care unsupervised, courts may order short visits supervised by a therapist, social worker, or relative to allow the parent and child to maintain a relationship while protecting the child’s safety.

There are many configurations for physical custody. The best one is the one that works best for your family, and especially for your children. If you have questions about legal or physical custody or South Carolina family law in general, please contact Brinkley Law Firm to schedule a consultation.

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Since founding Brinkley Law Firm in 2011, attorney Stephanie Brinkley has helped families grow and expand by navigating them through the legal challenges surrounding Assisted Reproduction Technology (ART) and Adoption. As an attorney who focuses on f… Read More
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Originally from Los Angeles, Christopher Kays moved to Charleston in 2007 when he reported to The Citadel for his knob year to study psychology. As a cadet, Christopher volunteered at the VA hospital and helped establish Leadership Day, The Citadel… Read More

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