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Primary physical custody is a term that is often used in child custody orders to denote the parent with whom a child spends or lives the great majority of time with. It is a term that is often used in cases where parents are awarded joint physical custody and one parent has slightly more time with his/her child than the other.

However, in most states, there is no statutory language or code where the primary physical custody terminology can be found and therefore it has no legal meaning.In cases where the term primary physical custody is used in the order, the court will be tasked to look at the existing de facto arrangement between the parents to determine whether the parents have a true joint physical custody arrangement or if one parent has sole physical custody with visitation rights to the other parent.

In many states, the interpretation is left up to the judge, which may result in children receiving less time with a non-custodial parent than they would have had if the parent had been awarded "Joint" physical custody.

Traditionally Courts have favored children having an exclusive home in order to encourage stability in children's lives. It appears anecdotally fathers have reported their perception that mothers are favored when deciding physical custody of infants. This may in part because laws have been passed in states that younger children (of tender years) should be with their mother until a certain age of maturity. Research by Joan B. Kelly, Ph.D., and Michael E. Lamb, Ph.D. have challenged this philosophy in recent years.

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