In a California joint custody arrangement, the primary custodial parent is the parent that spends the majority of the time with the child or children. For instance, if one parent has custody of the child during the week and the other parent only has custody on the weekends, the parent who cares for the child during the week is often called the primary custodial parent because they spend more time with the child than the other parent.
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Primary custody refers to the parent with whom a child lives after both parents separate or divorce. It is also referred to as physical custody. Primary custody is awarded based upon a number of factors and doesn’t necessarily denote the fitness of the parent. The primary residential parent generally has final decision-making authority in day-to-day care and control of each child.
Determining the Primary Custodial Parent
When formulating a child custody arrangement, the court will always take into consideration the child’s best interest. This means that the choice of the primary custodial parent is dependent on what would be most beneficial to the child. In addition, and only after the child’s best interests standard have been applied, the court will consider:
- The nature of the parent’s relationship with the child;
- The parent’s physical and mental capacities;
- The parent’s financial background and ability to care for the child; and,
- Any criminal record or history of neglect or abuse.
Rational for Primary Custody
The Courts have favored children having an exclusive home in order to encourage stability in children’s lives. Fathers sometimes report a perception that mothers are favored when deciding physical custody of infants. This may be in part because laws have been passed stating that younger children (of tender years) should be with their mother until a certain age of maturity.
Changing the Primary Custodial Parent
There may be changes in circumstances that the court will consider regarding custody. The court may change primary custody due to the fact that a parent’s capabilities and availability has changed; or, that there are benefits that the child can receive by a change in custody.
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