Custodial Parents & Noncustodial Parents: Rights & More

Depending on the custodial rights granted to parents in the final custody order, one parent is the custodial parent and the other is the noncustodial parent. These titles affect the rights and responsibilities of each parent, such as who receives and who pays child support among other things.

Some states use different terms that have the same meaning. For example, Ohio uses the terms residential and nonresidential parent.

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What is a custodial parent?

The custodial parent is the child's primary caregiver. It's common for them to have sole custody, giving them sole authority over child-related decisions (sole legal custody) and most or all of the parenting time (sole physical custody).

Parents could reach a sole custody agreement or even a joint custody agreement and name the custodial parent. If that isn't possible, the judge decides who it should be based on:

One benefit of being a custodial parent is that you get to spend a lot of one-on-one time with your child. Another is that you'll likely avoid paying child support.

However, the brunt of the parenting responsibilities falls on you, especially if you're a single parent. You're in charge of the child's day-to-day care and have to deal with all or most of your child's frustrations and growing pains. Plus, you'll have additional tasks the other parent may be able to skirt such as providing transportation to and from school.

If you get along well enough with your ex, you might be able to co-parent so you split these responsibilities evenly between both of you.

What is a noncustodial parent?

The noncustodial parent generally spends less time with the child and is responsible for making child support payments (although they can receive support if the custodial parent has a significantly higher income).

Even if you have joint physical custody and joint legal custody, you can still be the noncustodial parent. Maybe the other parent lives in a better school district or the court determines you should pay child support.

Although you may not see your child as often, your role is as important as the custodial parent's; children benefit most when both parents contribute to their upbringing.

Noncustodial parent rights

Noncustodial parents have decision-making authority and visitation rights unless the court determines it isn't appropriate. If there's concern over the child being alone with the parent, the court could order supervised visitation.

If the custodial parent isn't allowing visits, that doesn't give you the right to stop paying child support. You should take the issue up with a family court to see what they can do to enforce the order.

You have the right to know if the custodial parent intends on moving. Most states specify the time frame in which the custodial parent must give notice of their move. This gives the noncustodial parent time to contest. The move may require a modification of the custody order if the distance is significant enough to affect the visitation schedule.

If the court order says so, both parents also have the right to know where the child is during visits.

Working together

Although you're no longer together, you're still a team when it comes to raising your child. A few of the issues you should collaborate on include:

  • Major child-related decisions (e.g., where the child goes to school)
  • Major expenses for the child (e.g., medical procedures)
  • Discipline
  • Transporting the child to and from visits

If you're having trouble discussing these topics, consider trying an alternative dispute resolution method before going to court. Immediately resorting to litigation could make it harder to civilly address issues in the future.

Designating a custodial and noncustodial parent in your plan

Creating a parenting plan can feel overwhelming.

Use technology to take the guesswork out of the equation. The Custody X Change app walks you through each step of creating a comprehensive parenting plan.

Designating legal and physical custody in your plan is easy. In the app, click the "parenting plan" tab. More than 25 categories of parenting provisions will appear. In the "physical custody" and "legal custody" categories, choose the provisions that work best for your family.

Now you're on your way to a professional-quality document for managing custody of your child.

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