What is the Purpose of Physical Custody Labels?

When I started practicing law, the custody labels mattered. If a parent was a child’s “sole physical” custodian, he or she received a set percentage of the other parent’s net income for child support. In addition, a “sole physical” custodian was permitted to move his or her children out of Minnesota so long as they were not doing so for the purpose of denying the other parent parenting time.

Neither is the case today. Child support is now based on both parties’ incomes and the percentage of time that the parents spend with the children. Likewise, a parent’s ability to move a child out of the state of Minnesota is now more restricted and not dependent on the custody label. While the label can matter if a decree is being interpreted by an out of state court or under certain tax scenarios, those issues can be addressed in the decree, making the labels virtually irrelevant.

Still, it is not uncommon for one party to feel very strongly about the physical custody label. In cases that settle, we see parents calling equal parenting time schedules, “sole physical custody,” and lopsided parenting time schedules, “joint physical custody,” just to get past the label stigma. In other cases, we see parties spending precious time and funds litigating the issue.

I very much look forward to the day when the labels are no longer.

Categories: Blog