Under Nevada child custody laws, a parent has sole physical custody when his/her child lives with him/her 100% of the time. In contrast, primary physical custody is when the child lives with the parent for more than 60% of the time.
Sole legal custody is when a parent has complete authority over his/her child’s major decisions, such as health and education choices. There is no such thing in Nevada as “primary legal custody.” A parent either has sole legal custody, shares joint legal custody with the other parent, or has no legal custody at all.
Sole Custody in Nevada
Sole physical custody is where the child lives with one parent all the time. Unless one of the parents had his/her parental rights terminated, this exclusive type of living arrangement is extremely rare in Nevada.
All things being equal, judges believe it is in the best interest of the child in Nevada (NRS 125C.0035) for each parent to spend time with the child, even if the ratio is 95% to 5%. But there are circumstances where courts believe it is in the child’s best interest to live with only one parent all the time.
One situation where a court may grant a mother exclusive rights to the child is if the child was a product of non-spousal rape and if the perpetrator was convicted of rape. The only exception is if the mother (or legal guardian) consents to the child staying with the father, and it is in the child’s best interest
If the child is the product of spousal rape — and if the couple later divorces — the perpetrator’s sexual assault conviction would create a “rebuttable presumption” that it is not in the child’s best interest for the father to live with the child. If the court does grant the father access to the child, it would try to create a visitation arrangement that adequately protects both the child and the victim ex-wife. (NRS 125C.210)
Sole legal custody is when a parent has complete decision-making authority over the child’s medical care, education, and religion. The parent does not have to get the other parent’s approval before moving forward with any major decision. Parents with sole physical custody typically have sole legal custody as well.
The other type of legal custody in Nevada is joint legal custody, which is where both parents share decision-making power. Joint legal custody is far more common than sole legal custody.
Roe v. Roe (2023) 139 Nev. Adv. Op. 21 (“We now define sole physical custody as a custodial arrangement where the child resides with only one parent and the noncustodial parent’s parenting time is restricted to no significant in-person parenting time…To avoid unnecessary restrictions on parental rights, a district court must only enter an order for sole physical custody if it first finds either that the noncustodial parent is unfit for the child to reside with, or if it makes specific findings and provides an adequate explanation as to the reasons why primary physical custody is not in the best interest of the child…these findings must be in writing…and are separate and in addition to the best interest findings required under NRS 125C.0035(4) and our primary physical custody jurisprudence. After making either of these findings supporting sole physical custody, the district court must then order the least restrictive parenting time arrangement possible that is within the child’s best interest…When entering its custodial order, if a less restrictive parenting time arrangement is available, or proposed but rejected, the district court must provide an explanation as to how the best interest of the child is served by the greater restriction.”)
Primary Custody in Nevada
Primary physical custody refers to when one parent has a child more than 60% of the time. This parent is the custodial parent. Meanwhile, the other parent is considered the “non-custodial” parent and has visitation rights in Nevada.
Primary physical custody is different from joint physical custody, which is where each parent has the child at least 40% of the time. Joint physical custody is the default child custody arrangement in Nevada unless the court finds it is in the best interest of the child for one parent to have primary custody and the other to settle for visitation.
An example of where a court may find it is in a child’s best interest to award one parent primary physical custody is if that parent is a homemaker and the other parent works long hours at a job. The court might figure it is better for the child to be with an adult who can attend to him/her full-time.
As discussed above, there is no such thing in Nevada as “primary legal custody.” The only options are sole or joint.