What Is Primary and Secondary Custody?

By  //  September 25, 2020

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Primary custody is the term used after a divorce to describe the parent that the child spends more time with, while secondary custody describes the parent who has visitation with their child.

Primary custody is the term used after a divorce to describe the parent that the child spends more time with, while secondary custody describes the parent who has visitation with their child.

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While custody is sometimes settled by mediation outside of the courtroom Orange County child support attorney, it is often left up to the courts to decide who will receive which type of child custody after a divorce.

How Custody Is Determined

Many factors go into determining which parent gets primary and which gets secondary custody after a divorce, but one of the main factors is who was the primary caretaker during the marriage.

In the past, primary custody was often awarded to the mother. At that time, more women stayed at home with the children while their husbands went to work, so the bond between mother and child was often much stronger.

However, times have changed. Now there are a lot fewer households that are single-income families and maintain a stay-at-home parent. Far more often, both parents work. Determining who the primary caretaker was during the relationship is much trickier in these cases, and it’s often without a clear-cut answer.

Generally, the parenting plan, which details the custody arrangements, will reflect the parenting pattern prior to separation. If one parent was much more hands-on in raising a child than the other, there is a good chance that they will continue as the primary carer. That may happen by mutual agreement or court order. Rarely will the primary carer prior to separation end up with less than 50% custody.

Without evidence that the child’s health, safety, or general well-being is at risk in the custody of the spouse who had up to this point been the child’s primary caretaker, it is nearly impossible. You can visit this website to learn more about requesting to become the primary caretaker and how the process works.

Continuity for the Child

One of the most important factors for the court is to maintain as much continuity as possible for the child. This is why if there was a primary caretaker during the marriage, they have a very strong chance of maintaining that position after the divorce.

In situations where the child didn’t have a clear-cut primary caregiver during the marriage, the desire to maintain continuity remains. Therefore, there is less chance that the court will grant primary custody to one parent or the other and a higher likelihood of joint custody being granted.

Joint custody doesn’t necessarily mean that the time the child spends with the parents will be 50/50.  In fact, this is rarely the case, as it usually doesn’t make logistical sense. What it does mean is that the child will be in a situation where they spend a fairly even amount of time with both parents. They will have a residence in both households, rather than living with one parent and merely visiting the other.

Other Factors That Determine Custody

Other factors that can determine who gets primary custody and who gets secondary custody or whether joint custody is awarded include the following.

The Mental Health of Each Parent

A strong determining factor in custody can be the mental fitness of the child’s parents. If there is a proven history of mental disorder, it can be very hard for a parent to get joint or primary custody. However, a history of mental illness doesn’t rule you out from these possibilities completely. If you can prove a history of taking your medication to keep you balanced, this can work in your favor to show an extra level of responsibility.

Knowledge and Involvement in the Child’s Life

Even if you were not the child’s primary caregiver, that does not mean that you weren’t actively involved in their life. Showing that you have extensive knowledge about your child and a close bond will go a long way in the fight for joint or primary custody.

Financial Situation

This isn’t always a huge factor, especially in a household where there was a stay-at-home parent, as alimony and child support will play a strong role in your financial situation. However, being gainfully employed certainly won’t hurt your case.


Finally, having a home that is safe for children where your child can live and feel at home is a big point in the plus column in your custody battle. Especially if you are pushing for primary custody, since your residence would be the primary home of your child should you win.