Child Custody: Types of Residential Arrangements


Despite the fact that a divorce marks the end of a marital relationship, it is important for children to maintain relationships with both parents (at least in most instances). To be sure, research has increasingly shown that children of divorced parents are more psychologically healthy if they are able to maintain relationships with both parents.

Luckily, Minnesota courts are happy to accept a stipulated visitation agreement or parenting plan. So divorcing couples are really in control when it comes to making decisions about dividing the parenting time. How, then, are divorced parents to determine living arrangements for their children? What options are available?

Legal vs. Physical Custody

It is important to note at the outset that residential arrangements are different from, and having no bearing on, legal custody and decision-making authority. While one parent may have primary physical or residential custody, both parents can retain equal legal custody rights. Legal custody rights involve authority to make decisions regarding education, healthcare, and religious instruction.

Primary Residence

The most common type of residential arrangement is the primary residence, in which one parent has primary residential custody, and the other parent has secondary residential custody. The primary caregiver frequently has more time with the child.

Primary residence arrangements are more attractive when the parties live far enough apart that children cannot attend the same school while living with both parents. The primary residence is the one from which the child attends school.

Shared Residence

A shared residence arrangement is one in which both parents have equal parenting time with the child. There is no primary caregiver. The actual logistics can vary according the parents' schedules. The residence may change on a weekly basis or more or less frequently.

Children themselves desire equal time with both parents. A recent study asked children of divorce which parent they preferred to spend the most time with, and 70% said they preferred equal parenting time.

This type of arrangement is more practical when the divorced parents live in fairly close proximity, and as discussed above, may be impossible if one parent moves away a far distance.

Sole Residence

In this type of arrangement, the children live mainly or wholly with one parent, and they see the other parent infrequently or not at all.

Given the fact that courts recognize the benefit of having relationships with both parents, it is rare that a parent is given sole physical custody of a child. Nonetheless, sometimes such arrangements are desired by the parents or are best for the children under the circumstances.

Deciding Residential Arrangements

Divorce is a turbulent time for children. Determining the best living arrangements can have a huge impact on a child's wellbeing. For this reason, it is important to discuss the matter with your children. In addition, you may want to consult a psychologist or counselor and an attorney.