When a set of parents’ divorce, one of the most important things that is discussed is custody. There are many terms thrown around regarding custody: primary custody, physical custody, legal custody, etc. In this blog post, we hope to clarify these terms to help any divorcing or separating parents. So, what is Legal Custody vs Physical Custody? There are two different types of custody (sometimes referred to as physical custody): joint custody and primary custody.

Legal Custody Vs Physical Custody VS Primary Custody

Joint physical custody is when a child or set of children spend roughly half their time with each parent.

Primary custody, on the other hand, is when a child or set of children spend more than 61% of the time with one parent.

Legal custody refers to the general decision making rights a parent might have, such as medical decisions, religious upbringing, where the child(ren) should go to school, etc.

However, Colorado laws use an umbrella term called “Parental Responsibilities” in place of custody. Likewise, Colorado uses the term “Decision Making Responsibilities” in place of legal custody, and “Parenting Time” to replace physical custody/visitation.

How is physical custody/parenting time determined?

What is best for a divorcing couple with children is determined on a case-by-case basis. When making these decisions, the court will often look at best interest factors, which are factors considered to foster and encourage the child’s/children’s happiness, security, mental health, and emotional development.

Some of these factors can be the wishes of the child, the mental/physical health of the parents, religious/cultural considerations, adjustments to school and community, patterns of domestic violence in the home, and evidence of drug use, or abuse in any form. This being said, courts will try to look at the entire picture when making these decisions, as they are seldom easy decisions to make.

Custodial Issues

When stated, custody can sound simple, but in practice, custody can be a very different story. Some of the most common custody issues lie in interference: where one or both parents intentionally violate the visitation schedule, fails to take children when they had previously agreed to, or simply will not live up to the parenting agreement.

These violations can come in many forms, such as when one parent limits the child’s contact with the other parent, including virtual contact, or refusing to hand the child to the other parent for predetermined visitation.

Other complications arise in the relocation process. This often happens because when a set of parents split, one or both parents need to find a new place to live. This may be because they, understandably, do not want to live with the other parent, or because either parent cannot afford their previous home without the financial assistance of the other parent. Alternatively, after a divorce, a parent may need to relocate for employment opportunities, or because of other life circumstances. When these situations arise, it is best to consult your lawyer on any forms that need to be signed, and to discuss custodial relocation laws, as they can vary by state.


At Alexander and Associates Attorneys at Law LLC, we know how daunting and complicated custodial battles can be. We’re here to listen, advise, and help you build your case. Reach out to us at 970-725-6626 to get started with us today.