What is Expected of a Custodial Parent?

If a parent receives custody of a child in a divorce case, the courts expect the parent to exercise a certain level of care for the child. The custodial parent has responsibilities regarding the safety and welfare of the child. It is important to understand these laws to avoid losing your custodial rights. If you suspect that your ex-spouse is falling short of what is expected of a custodial parent, you can petition the courts to request a custody order modification.

Legal Custody vs. Physical Custody

The responsibilities given to a custodial parent depend on the type of custody. There are two types of custody: legal and physical. Legal custody is the right of a parent to make important decisions for the child, such as where the child will go to school and the child’s religion. Physical custody means that the child is in the actual physical care of the parent, such as living together. 

Both parents may be given shared legal and physical custody of a child in a divorce case. In other cases, one parent may have physical custody while the other has legal custody, or one parent may have both types of custody while the other has no custodial rights. Each case is unique. 

If a parent is given legal custody, he or she is expected to make decisions that will protect the child’s best interests. Examples are sending the child to school in a community where he or she can grow up healthy and happy and making sound medical decisions on the child’s behalf. Proper childcare and decision-making are required of a parent with legal custody.

If a parent is given physical custody, his or her responsibilities include making sure that the child is safe, comfortable and happy in his or her home environment. It would be a breach of the custodial parent’s duty of care to expose the child to drug abuse or violence, for example. Neglecting or abandoning the child are also violations. The courts expect a custodial parent to ensure a safe and productive environment.

Daily Responsibilities 

The daily responsibilities of a parent who has been given custody are the typical duties that any parent performs for his or her child. They may include:

  • Taking the child to and from school.
  • Helping with homework.
  • Keeping up with doctor’s appointments and medications.
  • Allowing the child to engage in extracurricular activities.
  • Providing proper nutrition and hydration.
  • Providing clothing and shelter.
  • Taking care of the child’s daily hygiene.

If there is evidence that the custodial parent is not taking proper care of the child, action might be taken to remove the child from that parent’s custody.

Obeying Custody and Visitation Orders

Both parents involved in a divorce have an obligation to obey court orders. If the parents are ordered to share custody, for example, one parent cannot withhold custody or visitation from the other. The custodial parent is legally obligated to adhere to the stipulations of the custody agreement that was finalized by the courts.

A custodial parent has a responsibility to go through the proper channels if he or she wishes to change or modify a custody order. If a parent with physical custody refuses to allow visitation to the other parent against a court order, the noncustodial parent can go to court to request a resolution. In this scenario, the custodial parent may be held in contempt of court for failing to obey the order. 

Getting Court Approval for a Move

A custodial parent is also expected to stay in the same location with the child unless the parent obtains a court order to move or relocate. It is against the law for a parent to move a child out of the city or state without having a letter signed by the other parent and a judge or petitioning the courts for permission to move. This is referred to as parental abduction and can result in criminal charges in addition to civil penalties. Speak to a child custody attorney for more information about custodial parent responsibilities.