Learning the Language of Family Law

Learning the Language of Family Law
April 11, 2017
|   updated:
July 11, 2023

Venturing into a new community and learning the common language used there can be a daunting task. It’s no different for Family Law. But starting work on a Family Law or child custody arrangement can be a difficult and contentious time for parents; the last thing they should have to worry about is learning the lingo. In an effort to eliminate some extra stress for parents, we’ve compiled a list of:

Common Family Law Terms


The time the non-custodial parent spends with the child(ren). This term has come under fire lately as lots of parents feel like it’s not appropriate to call the time they spend with their children a “visit”. The industry and parents are moving toward using the term Parenting Time instead of Visitation.

Custodial Parent

The parent who either has sole custody or physical custody of the child, or the parent with whom the child lives the majority of the time.

Physical Custody

Having primary physical custody of the child means that the child spends or lives the majority of time with you.

Legal Custody

A parent with legal custody has the right and authority to make decisions for the child’s well being and upbringing.


When a couple or former couple work together to share the duties of parenthood. Children and parents alike can benefit from a healthy co-parenting relationship.

Supervised Visitation

In higher conflict or high-risk situations, supervised visitation allows parents access to their children in a safe, supervised environment. In other words, the non-custodial parent has access to the child only when another approved adult is present.

Sole Custody

A parent with sole custody of a child has full custody of the child. Sole custody is usually awarded in cases in which the other parent is abusive, absent, or otherwise dangerous to the child.

Joint/Shared Custody

It’s common for divorced or unmarried couples to have joint custody of the child. Under this arrangement, the child splits his or her time between the two parents’ homes.

While this isn’t a complete list of the language parents will encounter in Family Law situations, it’s a good representation of some of the most commonly used terms. Parents should be able to focus on the children during custody arrangements, instead of having to worry about learning industry jargon.

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