What is a custodial parent?

A custodial parent is the parent who has either sole physical custody of the child or the parent with whom the child resides for a majority of the time. Although courts often give two parents who are both fit parents joint custody of the child, the court may refer to the parent with the larger timeshare with the child as a custodial parent at times in court documents and during hearings.

There are two types of custody, legal and physical custody. Legal custody gives one parent the right to make vital decisions regarding the child's education, morality, religious training, discipline, and medical care. Physical custody refers to the actual physical care and control of the child.

Custodial Parent Rights

Custodial parent rights differ depending on whether the parent merely has physical custody of the child or whether the parent also has legal custody. If a custodial parent has sole physical custody and sole legal custody of the child, then the custodial parent is entirely responsible for the care and raising of the child and is free to make decisions regarding the health and welfare of the child without concurrence or even consultation with the non-custodial parent. The custodial parent may make medical decisions, decisions about schools and education, and other similar decisionsd unless a court order in place or divorce decree provides specific instructions regarding the rights and responsibilities of the custodial and non-custodial parents. The custodial parent may not move away with the child. If the non-custodial parent has child visitation, the custodial parent must comply with the visitation orders and produce the child to the non-custodial parent for visitation as ordered.

Custodial Parent Rights When Legal Custody is Shared

If the custodial parent has sole physical custody but joint legal custody with the other parent, the rights and responsibilities of the custodial parent are different. While the custodial parent may control the daily care of the child and has physical custody and general control of the child on a daily basis, the non-custodial parent with joint legal custody has a right to participate in making major decisions about raising their child. For example, the non-custodial parent has a say in what school the child attends, may make medical decisions in concert with the other parent, and has a right to generally participate in making other similar major decisions on raising the child.  In other words, a parent with joint legal custody may contribute to the upbringing of the child even though the child may usually reside with the other parent who is the custodial parent. Parents with joint legal custody are expected to cooperate in the upbringing of the child regardless of whether one parent or the other has physical custody.

Getting Child Custody

Parents have a fundamental constitutional right to the care, custody and control of their children. Whether parents are married or not, each parent has control and a say in the upbringing of the child. If parents divorce, matters such as child custody become an issue during the divorce and must eitherbe  negotiated by agreement of the parents or the court makes the determination as to which parent should have physical and legal custody of the child. If the court makes the ultimate decision, it will be based on what it thinks is fair and serves the best interests of the child. At times, even non-parent custody may be granted to a person who might be better situated to care for children. What is the "best interest of the child" standard is difficult to apply, but some factors that the  court considers include which parent provided most of the child's daily care, whether the child has a closer relationship with one or the other parent, whether one parent has more or less time to care for the child taking work responsibilities into consideration,  and the child's wishes (in some states) and other relevant factors.  Some states list the factors that will be considered when deciding custody issues.