Youth Justice: Custody

Physical Custody is the right to have a child in your care all (sole), most (primary), half (shared), or part (partial) of the time.

Legal Custody is the right to make educational, medical, and religious decisions for a child, either alone (sole) or with someone else (shared).

If the court has not entered a custody order for a child, the mother and father both have the right to have a child in their care, and to make decisions for that child.

  • This is true even if they are minors.

So, if the parents aren’t cooperating (for example, one parent refuses to let the other see the child), a custody order will define who has the child at certain times, and who is responsible for making decisions.

  • As of September 1, 2015, minors can file for custody on their own, without adult help.
  • Filing for custody when you are cooperating can be a good way to prevent problems—you can always get a custody order “by agreement.”
  • If you aren’t able to agree, the judge will make a decision based on the child’s best interests, which includes considering things like:
    • which parent is more cooperative;
    • whether there has been child abuse or domestic violence;
    • which parent has been caring for the child; and
    • if a parent uses drugs or has a record.

Grandparents can only seek primary physical or legal custody of a grandchild if:

  • The grandchild has been living with them for twelve months in a row or more, OR
  • is “dependent” or at risk because the parent abuses or neglects the child, or is on drugs / alcohol.

If these things aren’t true, the grandparent can only seek partial custody (“visitation”).

For more on custody for teen parents, go to