The Post-Divorce-Parenting Glossary

Divorced-Parenting Term

Custodial Parent


What is the custodial parent in a child custody case?

The term custodial parent is often misunderstood.  In a child custody case, the custodial parent is parent with sole custody, or if joint custody is awarded, the parent with the majority of the parenting time.  The term is sometimes misunderstood because courts might refer to one parent as the custodial parent in legal documents, even in joint custody arrangements with equal custody, but to truly be the custodial parent one would need to be awarded sole custody or if in a joint custody arrangement, be given significantly more parenting time than the other parent.


Is there always a custodial parent in child custody arrangement?

In 50/50 joint custody arrangements, where physical custody is split equally between both parents, neither parent is established as the primary custodial parent.  Both parents have an equal role as a custodial parent in true joint custody arrangement.  This means neither parent has more authority than the other, and no parent is called the primary custodial parent or the non-custodial parent.


Does the non-custodial parent have legal custody of the children?

Legal custody can, and is often split equally between both parents, even if one is the custodial parent.  Legal custody gives a parent the authority to make decisions about bigger, long-term issues like what religion to follow, what schools to attend, etc.  If the primary custodial parent and the non custodial parent both have shared legal custody, then they must communicate these matters to each other.  It is important to note that the term "custodial parent" only applies to physical custody.  Legal custody is a separate.


What are the rights and responsibilities of the custodial parent?

If the custodial parent shares legal custody with the other parent, then the custodial parent is responsible for all aspects of physical custody of the child.  But the custodial parent must understand that major decisions implied by have shared legal custody will need to be worked out with the non-custodial parent - just because the child lives primarily with one parent does not give that parent the sole authority to make all important decisions on the child's behalf.

If the custodial parent has sole custody of the child, which means sole physical custody and sole legal custody, then the custodial parent rights are increased.  If the custodial parent has sole legal and sole physical custody, then he or she does not need to get approval from the non-custodial parent about big decisions.

To understand what types of decisions the custodial parent and non-custodial parent might make, we like to refer to something we refer to as the "baby-sitter test", because many divorced parents misunderstand just what types of decisions each parent is expected to be involved in.


Does the custodial parent always get child support?

No.  In fact, it is possible that the non-custodial parent might even receive child support from the custodial parent.  Child support formulas are dependent on not only the amount of parenting time that each parent has, but also on their incomes.  If the non-custodial parent makes significantly less money than the custodial parent, it is possible that the custodial parent could pay the NCP child support.

Different states have different child support formulas, so it is not possible to know how each child support calculation will be determined.


Are women typically appointed the custodial parent?

There have been a lot of changes in child custody arrangements over the past 200 years.  In the 19th century, men typically got custody of the children if a marriage dissolved.  In the the 20th century, women were typically awarded custody, largely because of the tender years doctrine.

Today, women still are typically awarded custody more than men, but is is shifting toward joint custody becoming more and more common.  Family law requires that courts follow the best interest of the child doctrine, and that requires that children be the first consideration in how child custody, visitation, and child support is arranged.

Because women are taking more of an active role in the workplace, the number of instances where men are the custodial parent is increasing.

Does a custodial parent exist in joint custody
Joint custody is different than sole custody, and how the custodial parent and non-custodial parent are defined is commonly misunderstood.
What are the right of the custodial parent?
The custodial parent might have some rights that you never thought of!
Do women ever become the non-custodial parent?
The role of women in child custody and in the work place has changed. How has this affected who is defined has the primary custodial parent?

custodial parent, non custodial parent, primary custodial parent, primary custody, sole custody

How can CustodyZen Help divorced or separated parents raise happier children? is an amazing website that helps divorced parents communicate the important issues related to raising thier children.

With simple, web-based tools, divorced parents can do things like:

  • Share & Change Schedules
  • Have Discussions Online
  • Coordinate parenting Strategies
  • Share Contacts
  • Share Photos
  • Share Documents
  • and much, much more!

Click here to learn more about how can help your divorced or separated family.