Duhaime's Law Dictionary


Physical Custody Definition:

The right to organize and administer the day to day care of a child or a thing.

A child custody decision which grants the right to organize and administer the day to day residential care of a child.

This is usually combined with legal custody.

Consider these words of Justice Matthews of the Supreme Court of Alaska in DJ v PC:

"Legal custody refers to the responsibility for making major decisions affecting the child's welfare and is a status that may be held by a parent who does not have physical custody, which refers to the responsibility for physical care and immediate supervision of the child."

But that is not a universal view of the term. For example, in Matter of KM, Justice Hunt of the Supreme Court of Montana used these words:

"Physical custody is not limited to actual possession of a child. Rather, the phrase relates to the custodial rights involved in the care and control of the child."

Another distinction was hi-lighted by these words of Justice Thompson of the Court of Appeals of Arizona in Owen v Blackhawk:

"An order designating one parent as primary residential parent constitutes an order regarding physical custody as opposed to an order regarding parenting time. Physical custody involves the child's residential placement, whereas parenting time is what is traditionally thought of as visitation."

May also refer, in correctional law, to the responsibility given to the state for a person incarcerated, imprisoned or otherwise detained.

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