The difference between legal and physical child custody in Nevada

Nevada child custody laws concern both physical and legal custody. Like it sounds, physical custody refers to the child's living arrangements. And legal custody refers to the power to make major decisions about the child's upbringing.

Whenever a family court judge makes these types of decisions, the primary concern is what is in the best interest of the child in Nevada (NRS 125C.0035).

child holding up paper cutout of family
Nevada judges prefer to give both parents decision-making authority unless it would not be in the best interest of the child.

Legal Custody in Nevada

Legal custody is a parent's right to make important decisions about his/her child's upbringing. Specifically, the parent has the authority to decide:

  • What school a child attends,
  • The child's social environment,
  • What religion the child practices, and
  • What medical treatments a child receives

Nevada law provides for two types of legal custody: 1) sole, and 2) joint.

A parent with sole legal custody has 100% of the decision making power. This parent does not have to get the permission of the other parent to make important life decisions.

It is rare for courts to award a parent sole legal custody unless the other parent is out of the picture or is otherwise incapable of making good decisions.

Like it sounds, joint legal custody is when both parents have decision-making authority over the child. In general, judges who award parents joint physical custody (discussed below) will usually grant them joint legal custody as well. 

Note that it is common for a child's parents with joint legal custody to negotiate about which parent gets to make which decisions. For instance, the parents might agree that one makes the education decisions while the other makes the medical decisions.

Physical Custody in Nevada

Physical custody refers to the physical living arrangement between a parent and his/her child.

Nevada law provides for three types of physical custody: 1) sole, 2) primary, and 3) joint.

Sole custody is when a parent has custody over the child 100% of the time. It is very rare for a court to award this; it typically happens when the other parent is out of the picture completely or poses a danger to the child. In these situations, the court may still award the other parent very limited visitation that is often supervised.

A parent has primary physical custody when he/she spends more than 60% of his/her time with the child. The classic scenario is when one parent has custody except for every other weekend. The parent who has the child every other weekend is considered to be the "non-custodial parent" and has visitation rights in Nevada.

Parents share joint physical custody in Nevada if they each spend at least 40% of his/her time with each parent. So even if the child lives with one parent 60% of the time and with the other parent only 40% of the time, they still have joint custody. 40% is the equivalent to 146 days a year.

Certainly, courts strive for 50-50 arrangements where each parent sees the child an equal amount of time. An example is if the child moves homes after every week so that each parent sees the child 26 weeks of the year.


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