Child custody battles can be the most challenging part of being a divorce lawyer. We are biologically wired to fight for our children – more so than we would for other points of contention in the divorce process, like property.

Sadly, many of the fights are not over children. They are over ignorance of our rights, or ignorance of the real meanings behind child custody terms. For example, mothers come into our office willing to spend tens of thousands of dollars to fight for primary custody – not realizing that in Nevada, the difference between primary custody and joint custody might be only one extra day a week.

Before you head into a custody battle, take a moment to learn the territory. It doesn’t make much sense to storm into a battlefield blindfolded. Below are some fundamental things to understand about child custody in Nevada.

What are the different types of custody?

There are two main types of child custody: legal custody and physical custody.

  • Legal custody refers to a parent’s role in making decisions regarding the child’s health, schooling, religion and general well-being.
  • Physical custody refers to where the child physically lives. Physical custody is usually split between both parents, and the court will help to establish a fair schedule for visitation.

Additionally, for both legal and physical custody, there are two subtypes: primary and joint custody. Joint custody means that parents share an equal role in decision-making, while primary means that one parent retains full responsibility.

It is possible for parents to have different levels of custody depending on the main type. For example, one parent can have joint legal custody while also having primary physical custody.

What does it mean when the court asks what is in the “best interests” of the child?

The “best interests” argument is primarily used when one parent is seeking primary custody. Since the state legislature of Nevada is organized to default to joint primary custody, the parent seeking primary custody must prove why this option will be better for the child. The court considers the following criteria when deciding on these requests:

  • The wishes of the children, if they are of sufficient age
  • Which parent is more likely to maintain a relationship with the other
  • The level of conflict between the parents
  • The ability of the parents to cooperate to meet the needs of the children
  • The mental and physical health of both parents
  • The ability of the child to maintain a relationship with any siblings or step-siblings
  • Any history of physical or mental abuse in both parents
  • Whether either parent has ever engaged in an act of domestic violence

When will the courts consider modifying custody orders?

In the Nevada court system, child custody orders can only be modified for two reasons: 1) if there has been a significant change in circumstances affecting the child; and 2) if the modification will be in the child’s best interests.

What happens if I want to move?

Most states do not allow you to move out of state without the court’s permission. Nevada courts define child relocation as “at such a distance that would substantially impair the ability of the other parent to maintain a meaningful relationship with the child.”

Historically, courts would be involved if one parent moved out of the state; however, the definition now extends to relocation several hours away. Three factors have to be established when considering parental relocation:

  • Whether or not the move will improve the child’s quality of life
  • Whether the motives of the moving parent are honorable and not intended to hurt the other parent
  • Whether the non-moving parent will be able to maintain a relationship with the child