What are The Benefits of Primary Physical Custody in Massachusetts?

You’re planning a separation from your partner. But one of the issues holding you back is that you know that for the first time, you’ll be away from your children for periods of time. This is especially difficult for parents who are the primary caretakers.

Although in most cases, both parents are entitled to parenting time with the children, establishing yourself as the parent with primary physical custody means that the children are in your care most of the time, and it generally maximizes the amount of child support you receive. But money should always take a back seat to the best interest of the children.

There are two types of custody in MA: legal and physical custody.

Legal custody is about which parent makes the major decisions for the child, for example on the issues of healthcare and schooling. Unless there’s a significant issue with one of the parents, the court generally awards shared legal custody. Generally, both parents—if they’re fit—should be involved in the major issues in their children’s lives.

On the other hand, physical custody refers to the amount of time the children spend with each parent. Picture a parenting time spectrum. On one end, one parent has almost all the parenting time and the other parent sees the children very little. On the other end, the parents share parenting time approximately equally. And there are parenting plans that fall anywhere in between those two extremes.

The breakdown in parenting time depends on a number of factors, including which parent has been the primary caretaker, the parents’ mental health, any substance abuse or criminal issues, the parents’ schedules, their bond with the children, where they live and how far apart from each other, and other issues.

Barring safety concerns courts generally accept parenting plans agreed upon by the parents. Absent agreement, the issue is presented to a Judge—or a mediator if the parties agree to alternative dispute resolution.

If the children spend approximately two-thirds of the time with one parent, that parent is generally referred to as the primary-care parent and has sole physical custody. However, if the parents share parenting time approximately equally, they have shared physical custody.

The significance of having primary physical custody is two-fold. Here are the main advantages.

Time with the Child

First, and obviously, the parent with primary physical custody has the children most of the time, and the other parent typically has regularly scheduled parenting time. More time with the children generally gives the primary care parent a greater degree of control over their upbringing, even in shared legal custody arrangements.

Child Support

Besides the time you spend with your children, primary physical custody also affects your finances. The parent with primary physical custody typically receives child support from the other parent.

If the parenting time breakdown is approximately two-thirds for the primary care parent to one-third for the other parent, the primary care parent generally receives “full guidelines” child support. On the other hand, if the parties share physical custody, a different calculation is used, which effectively results in a lower amount of support, which is paid by the higher to the lower earner.

Child support sometimes unfortunately results in parents fighting over parenting time, not because they really want their children more, but because they want to receive a higher amount of child support or lower the support obligation.

The Best Interest of the Children is Paramount

The parent’s goal should be to implement a parenting schedule that’s in the best interest of the children. Therefore, ideally, the parenting time is determined first, according to what’s best for the children. Then, after examining the breakdown in parenting time, and the parents’ finances, a fair financial arrangement should be implemented.

Primary physical custody carries a significant advantage because it results in more time with the children and increases the odds of a higher child support support order. But the children’s best interest should always be the primary concern, and a fair support amount should flow from that parenting arrangement.

If you have any questions about parenting time or child support, please feel free to contact us.


What is joint legal custody with primary physical custody?

This is an arrangement in which the parties share responsibility for major decisions, but the child spends most of the time with one parent. Legal custody is about which parent makes the major decisions for the child—for example, health care, schooling, and religion. Physical custody is about parenting time: if one party has most of the parenting time, that party typically has physical custody.

What are my rights with primary physical custody?

Primary physical custody is about how much time the child spends with each parent. If you have the child in your care for the majority of the time, you have primary physical custody. Therefore, it has nothing to do with “rights” as that pertains to decision making, which is controlled by legal custody.

What does primary physical custody mean?

The parent who has primary physical custody has the child for most of the parenting time. On the other hand, if the parenting time is close to 50/50, that’s shared physical custody.

Benefits of primary physical custody?

The main benefits of primary physical custody are that the child spends more time with the primary custodial parent and that parent is generally entitled to child support from the other parent.

Is primary physical custody the same as full custody?

Yes, primary physical custody is the same as full physical custody. However, legal custody, which is about which parent makes the major decisions, is different than physical custody, which is about how much time the child spends with each parent. Therefore, a parent can have sole physical and shared legal custody.

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