What Is a Custodial Parent?

The term custodial parent refers to the parent with whom the child spends the majority of his or her time. Non-custodial parents, however, still have rights and responsibilities. In California, the courts like to give children equal time with each parent when possible and appropriate. Equal time can be challenging, especially once children are in school. The courts work to make sure the situation is as equitable as possible. There are two categories of custody:

  • Legal custody. Legal custody means that the parent has the right to make legal decisions regarding the child. Questions regarding education choices, medical care, and religious practice are all things that the parent with legal custody has the authority to decide.
  • Physical custody. Physical custody is about the physical care of the child and where he or she lives. The parent with physical custody has control over the daily activities and needs of the child.

The rights of the custodial parent can vary depending on how the court divides legal and physical custody between the parents. There are a variety of ways that the court may choose to divide responsibilities between the parents. Two possible examples are:

Sole Physical and Legal Custody

When the custodial parent has sole legal and physical custody, the parent does not share authority or responsibility with the other parent. In these cases, the custodial parent can make all decisions about the child’s education, health, and welfare. Unless there is a court order stating otherwise, making these decisions does not require consultation with the non-custodial parent. However, this arrangement is uncommon.

The custodial parent with sole legal and physical custody can choose where to live with the child, with one exception. Compliance with visitation orders is compulsory. This means that the child cannot move away if it would result in a failure to comply. If the custodial parent needs to move far away for some reason, he or she can ask the court for permission. In some cases, the court will allow the move and adjust the visitation order if the custodial parent pays for the child to travel to the other parent during school holidays.

Shared Physical and Legal Custody

The custodial parent’s rights and responsibilities are different when the court awards sole physical and joint legal custody. This means that the other parent has the right to jointly participate in decisions regarding raising the child. While the custodial parent retains control over the day-to-day logistics, the non-custodial parent has equal say in school attendance, medical decisions, and religious upbringing.

Obtaining Child Custody

Divorce is the dissolution of a marriage, not the dissolution of parenting. Parents have the right and responsibility to care for their child regardless of whether they live together. It’s best if the parents can agree to a division of custody and present it to the court. If they are unable to agree, the court will make the decision for them. The court takes into consideration what it thinks is in the best interest of the child. Considerations can include:

  • Current parental involvement in daily care
  • Child’s relationship with each parent
  • Available parenting time
  • Child’s wishes (in some cases)

Best Practice for the Child

Sharing custody can be difficult even in the most amenable divorces. The most important thing to remember when going through a divorce is to stay focused on the needs of your children. As hard and unfair as the situation may seem to the parents, keeping a positive attitude can help children through the transition. The parents have a responsibility to make the process and new normal as easy as possible for their child.