Custody Definition

by | Child Custody

What Is Child Custody?

Child custody refers to which parent decides about their children and with whom they spend time.

There are two types of custody: legal and physical. Determining who has joint custody is crucial when parents divorce.

Legal vs. Physical Custody

Physical custody is where children spend time and whose parent(s) look after them.

Conversely, legal custody designates which parent or parents are legally permitted to make significant decisions for their child. For example, a parent or parents having legal custody may choose to:

  • Where a kid attends school
  • What religious upbringing does the child have
  • What kind of health care a child receives

If someone separates or is divorced, they must discuss legal and physical custody.

What is the Definition of Custody in Nevada?

If you live in southern Nevada and you’re considering or in a custody dispute over your children, you need the best legal help you can get. The state of Nevada wishes to have strong families, even if the relationship between the parents has not thrived. We all want what’s best for our children. The Nevada Revised Statues (NRS 125C) has an entire chapter dedicated to custody concerns and the custody definition.

It’s very common for people to have specific questions regarding Custody Definition. With over 20 years practicing family law in southern Nevada, you should seek the help of the Huggins Law Office. The Huggins Law Office can help answer your questions and provide solid legal counsel for your children’s best future.

joint custody definition

Common questions might begin with: What does it mean to have joint legal custody in Nevada? Generally, the court will assume that the interests of a minor child are best served if both parents share legal custody which are stated in NRS 125C.0015. So long as parents demonstrate a meaningful relationship with the child or children in question, joint legal custody should be awarded. If you are in a situation where your former partner may be attempting to damage your relationship with your child, commonly called Parental Alienation, you should reach out to the Huggins Law Office to pursue a legal remedy for your situation.

What does it mean to have joint physical custody in Nevada? The court may award joint legal custody without joint physical custody. Courts prefer joint physical custody as it usually serves the child’s best interests to spend time with both parents. The court can conduct an investigation into the family’s situation to determine whether or not joint physical custody is appropriate. Every situation for every family is different, and you can discuss the specifics of your case when we meet.

To learn more about joint legal custody please read on NRS 125C.002 and also for joint physical custody read on NRS 125C.0025.

sole custody defined

What does it mean to have sole legal custody in Nevada? A parent who has sole legal custody of a child is the only one who can make important decisions for the minor child in question. You may have valid concerns about your former partner and thus want to keep major decisions in your child’s life in your hands, choices like healthcare options, education, and religious affiliation, to name only three. If you have these concerns or others, sole legal custody might be the right choice for you.

What does it mean to have sole physical custody in Nevada? At its simplest, sole physical custody arranges for a child or children to live with the primary custodial parent over 50% of the time. The percentage can be modified as to your situation. Unlike joint physical custody, this assigns one residence to the child that becomes the primary home, rather than moving between residences.

primary physical custody

Last but not least, what does it mean to have primary physical custody in Nevada? As in cases of joint physical custody, the court will determine the best interests of the child as stated on NRS 125C.003. Some of the provisions that would make primary physical custody applicable would be if one parent is unable to care for a minor child a minimum of 146 days of a year for whatever reason, the child was born out of wedlock, or one parent of the child committed one or more acts of domestic violence. If you have had a child with a partner and are unmarried, the court may determine sole physical custody applies to your case—the NRS has multiple statutes for your situation.

Factors Considered in Child Custody Cases

Child custody cases involve determining the legal and physical custody of a child when parents are separated or divorced. The decisions made in these cases aim to ensure the well-being and best interests of the child.

Various factors are considered in child custody cases. While the specific criteria may vary by jurisdiction, the following are commonly taken into account:

  • Child’s Best Interests: The judge or courts prioritize the child’s best interests above all else. This broad and overarching principle encompasses various factors to ensure the child’s physical, emotional, and psychological well-being.
  • Parental Fitness: The court evaluates each parent’s physical and mental fitness, including their ability to provide the child with a stable and loving environment.
  • Emotional and Physical Needs of the Child: The court considers the child’s age, health, and special needs. The goal is to ensure the custody arrangement meets the child’s specific requirements.
  • Parent-Child Relationship: The strength and nature of each parent’s relationship with the child is assessed. Courts often value maintaining a child’s connection with both parents, assuming it is in their best interests.
  • Stability and Continuity: Courts generally prefer maintaining stability and continuity in a child’s life. Disrupting established routines and relationships may be considered a negative factor unless there are compelling reasons for change.
  • Financial stability: This includes evaluating the stability of each parent’s income and resources and the financial ability of each parent to provide for the child’s basic needs, education, and extracurricular activities.
  • Each Parent’s Willingness to Encourage a Relationship with the Other Parent: Courts consider whether each parent supports the child’s relationship with the other parent. A willingness to foster a positive co-parenting relationship is often viewed favorably.

The weight given to each factor can vary, and the court’s decision ultimately depends on the specific circumstances of each custody case. Additionally, laws and guidelines regarding child custody may differ across jurisdictions. 

How Is Child Custody Determined?

Whether made in or out of court, child custody determinations are contingent upon the parent’s ability to reach an agreement regarding legal and physical custody.

Parenting Plan

When they separate, parents should ideally collaborate to develop a parenting plan. This plan would specify who will have legal and physical custody of the children and the parameters of the child custody arrangements.

Parents are usually the best people to create this plan in their own families, as they have firsthand experience with childcare and work schedules, child preferences, and various factors that influence a child’s best time allocation.

If parents decide to dissolve their marriage, their parenting plan may be included in the divorce settlement agreement. Once both parties sign it in court, it will become legally enforceable. In most circumstances, parents who create this type of plan together are better for the child and less expensive, time-consuming, and contentious than those who reach an agreement independently.


Sometimes, parents cannot independently agree on a plan for sharing child custody. When this happens, the court might mandate mediation, which individuals might be forced to attend or be allowed to go.

A mediator is a competent, impartial third party who helps a couple improve their communication and identify areas of agreement. A mediator meets with the parents hourly to help them create a parenting plan that benefits them and their children.

Parents can still be assisted by a family law attorney when determining child custody through mediation. A qualified professional can facilitate the required discussion, helping parents discover a solution for their family.

Custody Evaluations

A child custody evaluation could be required if the parents cannot agree on custody.

A qualified mental health specialist evaluates the children and co-parents during this process and recommends how custody will be shared. When parents cannot reach a settlement independently, a custody evaluation assists the court in making a custody judgment. The recommendation can also help the parents reach a settlement.

Best Interest of the Child

When making custody decisions, the court will apply the best interests of the child standard. In other words, the court’s primary goal is to act in the children’s best interests, not necessarily what either parent desires.

The courts can determine the best interests of the child based on a variety of factors, such as:

  • The recommendations provided by a mental health specialist during a custody evaluation.
  • The child’s preference is if they’re mature enough to have an opinion.
  • Who has been the primary caregiver for the child (if either parent has)?
  • The ability of every parent to create a secure, caring home.
  • Whether a child has certain special needs.
  • The child’s emotional relationships with parents, siblings, and other family members.
  • The parents’ ability to link their children to networks of support, including their extended families.
  • The physical and mental needs of the child.
  • The existence of domestic violence within the home.

The specifics differ per state. Courts do not express a preference for parents of a specific gender (e.g., granting custody to the mother by default). Instead, the goal is to assess the situation comprehensively and determine which custody plan would best guarantee the stability and security of the child in the future. It typically involves continuing to have both parents involved in the child’s life.

How do Visitation Rights Work?

If one parent is granted primary custody while the other is granted parenting time or visitation, there are several ways to organize visitation.

Unsupervised Visits

Unsupervised visits occur when there isn’t any risk to the child from spending time with the other parent. Typically, the parent with visitation rights hands the child off to the other parent (or has their designated people do so), and the parent with visitation rights is then free to do with the child what they like until the visiting period expires.

Supervised Visits

If the child’s alone time with the non-custodial parent poses a risk, supervised visits may be mandated. For example, the court can only allow the neglectful or abusive parent to have supervised visits if there’s been domestic violence, abuse, or neglect.

These visits must often occur at certain places and times and be overseen by a designated person, such as a social worker or counselor. However, a friend or family member may be selected instead.

Virtual Visits

Scheduled sessions in which a non-custodial parent speaks with a child over the phone or sees the child through Zoom or other virtual meeting formats are known as virtual visits. When parents reside in separate geographic locations, these visits occur more frequently.

Custody and Paternity

A married couple is assumed to be a child’s legal parents when the child is born or adopted by them. Either parent may receive custody in the event of a divorce, or they can share custody.

But things can get trickier if a child is born to unmarried parents. One parent might have to prove their paternity or adopt the child to be acknowledged as a legal parent.

Grandparent Rights

Grandparents may be able to visit their grandchildren in some states, although under limited circumstances.

If the grandchild’s parents are still married, grandparents often cannot file a petition for grandparents’ rights. However, depending on state laws, they can request visits in particular circumstances. It could apply to any of the following situations:

  • When a stepparent adopts a grandchild.
  • When the grandchild is not living with either parent.
  • When a parent files a visitation petition alongside the grandparents.

In certain circumstances, like if the parents are found unfit or when drug or alcohol abuse is occurring in the child’s home, grandparents may also file a petition for child custody. But since state laws vary greatly, it’s crucial to consult with a lawyer who represents grandparents in legal cases.

Child Custody Modification

Even if a custody arrangement is established, it may not remain in place permanently. Although courts are hesitant to alter decisions too frequently, they will move to alter child custody in case of a substantial change in the situation or if doing so is in the child’s best interests.

The following are some situations in which changing a child custody arrangement could be appropriate:

  • Either parent must relocate.
  • Either parent is not adhering to the custody terms.
  • The child’s needs have changed.
  • The parents’ circumstances have altered; for example, one parent may have become clean and more capable of creating a stable home, or another parent may be unable to care for their child because of a jail sentence.

To modify a custody arrangement, a parent must petition the court and provide evidence that the proposed change is in the child’s best interests.

How Can A Lawyer Help You With Child Custody?

A family law attorney can play a crucial role in helping you navigate the complexities of child custody issues. Here are several ways in which a lawyer can assist you in this sensitive and often challenging legal matter:

  1. Legal expertise: A child custody attorney is knowledgeable about family law and well-versed in the specific statutes and regulations governing child custody in your jurisdiction. They can provide accurate information about your custody rights, responsibilities, and legal processes.
  2. Objective Advice: Emotions can run high during child custody disputes, making it difficult to make clear-headed decisions. A lawyer can offer objective advice, helping you understand the legal implications of your choices and guiding you toward decisions that are in your child’s best interest.
  3. Negotiation and Mediation: Child custody cases often involve negotiation and, in some cases, mediation. An experienced lawyer can represent your interests during these processes, advocating for a custody arrangement that aligns with your preferences and is fair to both parties.
  4. Documentation and Paperwork: Legal procedures typically involve extensive paperwork. Your lawyer can help you prepare and file the necessary documents accurately and within the specified deadlines, ensuring your case progresses smoothly through the legal system.
  5. Modification of Orders: If circumstances change after the initial custody order is issued, such as a parent relocating or a significant change in financial circumstances, your lawyer can assist you in seeking a modification of the custody arrangement to reflect these changes.
  6. Enforcement of Orders: If the other party fails to comply with the court-ordered custody arrangement, your lawyer can help you take legal action to enforce the order. That may involve seeking contempt of court charges or requesting modifications to accommodate changing circumstances.

A family law attorney specializing in child custody can guide you through the legal process. If you need the services of a child custody attorney in Las Vegas, call our law firm at (702) 387-4014.

For answers to family law questions like Custody Definition and many more, reach out to the Huggins Family Law office. As an expert in family law, The Huggins Law Office will get you the assistance you and your family need. Give us a call for a free initial consultation today! We can be reached at (702) 387-4014, or send us an email on our contact form.


Here are some frequently asked questions.

What types of custody arrangements are common?

Common custody arrangements include joint custody, where both parents share responsibilities, and sole custody, where one parent has primary custody with the other having visitation rights.

What is the difference between legal and physical custody?

Legal custody concerns decision-making authority, whereas physical custody refers to the child’s location. Depending on the arrangement, both types can be joint or sole.

How can lawyers assist in child custody cases?

Lawyers play a crucial role in child custody cases by providing legal advice, representing their clients in court, and helping navigate complex legal processes to ensure the child’s best interests are considered.

What role does child neglect play in custody decisions?

Child neglect is a serious factor that can affect custody decisions. Courts prioritize the safety and well-being of the child, and a history of neglect may lead to restrictions on custody or visitation.

Are there specific rules to follow in child custody cases?

Yes, there are rules and procedures to follow in child custody cases, which vary by jurisdiction. These rules ensure fairness, protect the rights of all parties involved, and help the court make decisions based on established legal principles.

What happens if a parent violates a custody order?

If a parent violates a custody order, the other parent can seek enforcement through family court. Consequences may include fines, modifications to the custody arrangement, or, in extreme cases, legal action.

Can a non-biological parent obtain custody rights?

Non-biological parents, such as stepparents or same-sex partners, may seek custody rights through legal processes like adoption or by demonstrating a significant parental role in the child’s life.

Get Legal Help for Child Custody

Child custody is the most challenging issue to settle after a couple splits or gets divorced. The service of a family law attorney can help you navigate the court process and understand your rights to increase your chances of obtaining your desired custody arrangement.

At Huggins Law Office, we understand the importance of a secure and nurturing environment for your child. Our experienced attorneys are here to provide the support and guidance you need. Contact us today for expert legal assistance in securing a positive result for your child custody case.

If you need any help with your case, have questions, or want more information, call our phone number at (702) 387-4014.