A Custodial Parent is a parent that is granted custody of a child or children by a judge. A judge may grant custody in connection with a divorce proceeding or a legal separation. The judge considers many factors when making custody decisions. 

These factors include, among others, whether a parent has the financial ability to raise the child, and whether granting a parent custody is in the child’s best interest.

What Rights Do Custodial Parents Have?

There are two types of custody rights. These include legal custody rights and physical custody rights. Custodial rights are typically listed in a document called an order and is signed by a judge. This order is legally binding on both parents. 

Legal custody rights allow a parent to make major life decisions on behalf of the child. These decisions typically concern important aspects of the child’s health, safety, and welfare, such as schooling decisions, medical care, and what type of religious instruction the child receives. 

In some instances, a court awards joint legal custody. Under a joint legal custody arrangement, both parents have the right to make decisions about how the child is to be raised. Courts are inclined to award joint legal custody if the parents show a willingness to work with each other in making child-rearing decisions.

Physical custody rights are those rights that allow a parent to be physically present with the child where the child lives. The parent who spends the majority of the time with the child or children has “primary physical custody.” 

The parent who has primary physical custody of the child is likely to have legal custody as well, since the parent who lives with the child is often in a better position to make daily and emergency decisions regarding the child’s safety and welfare. 

In some cases, parents share physical custody rights. This is called having “joint physical custody.” Under a joint physical custody arrangement, the child will reside with one parent at certain times, and will reside with the other parent at different times. For example, a child may reside with one parent on weekdays, and with the other parent on weekends.

A parent who has both legal and physical custody of a child has what is called “sole custody.” In such cases, the other parent, who is referred to as the “non-custodial parent.” usually is given visitation rights – rights to spend time with the child at time and place the parents mutually agree to. 

What Can I Do to Be Granted Custodial Parent Rights?

A parent who seeks to be granted custodial parental rights can take a number of steps to show a judge that the parent deserves to be granted custodial parent rights. These steps include:

  • Securing and maintaining stable housing. Being able to provide for a child’s need for shelter, heat, and water demonstrates a commitment to the child’s basic safety needs.
  • Earning a stable income. A judge may regard a parent’s having a source or sources of steady, stable income as an indication that the parent can meet the child’s financial needs.
  • Being in close proximity to the child’s school. The closer in proximity to the child’s school a parent is, the more likely the parent will be able to respond to emergency situations, attend school activities in which the child participates, and participate in parent-teacher conferences.
  • Being physically available to spend time with the child. A judge prefers that a parent seeking custodial parent rights demonstrate that the parent can actually be physically present for the child for as much time as possible. A parent’s ability to be physically present with the child can demonstrate a commitment to the child’s emotional needs. If a parent’s physical residence is a significant distance from where the child lives, or the parent’s schedule does not allow the parent adequate time to spend with the child on a recurring basis, a judge is less likely to grant custodial parent rights to that parent. 

What Happens If Custodial Parent Rights are Violated?

A parent who violates the terms of the custody order can face legal consequences. Typical examples of violations include:

  • When one parent refuses to return a child to the other parent at the time and place that were agreed upon. This violation may cause that parent to lose custodial parent rights. 
  • When one parent abuses or neglects the child. This violation can cause the parent to lose custodial rights, and may even result in a judge issuing a restraining order preventing that parent from having contact with the child. Neglect and abuse may also subject the parent to criminal penalties, including fines and jail time.

If a parent wishes to make changes to the child custody order – for example, if a parent with only visitation rights seeks joint physical custody rights – that parent may request that the court have the order modified. The court will review the request and make the modifications, if any, it thinks are appropriate, after giving both parents the opportunity to address the request.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Help with Custodial Parent Rights?

Custodial rights plays a critical role in the care and upbringing of the child or children involved. If you need advice on custodial parent laws, you may wish to hire a child custody lawyer for assistance. An attorney near you can help to explain the laws, advise you what rights you have, and can represent you in a court hearing where custodial rights are involved.