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A Guide to the Roles of Custodial and Non-Custodial Parents in Divorce

by | Dec 18, 2023 | Divorce

Going through a divorce when children are involved brings up many questions and uncertainties around legal rights, responsibilities, and custody arrangements. Defining and understanding the distinct roles of the custodial parent and non-custodial parent is an important part of the process. Here at Northwest Family Law, we will break down what each designation means and how the court determines custody status.

What is a Custodial Parent?

The custodial parent, often referred to as the primary residential parent, refers to the parent with whom the children reside for the majority of the time after a divorce. The courts determine custody based on the best interests of the child, but often grant primary physical custody to the parent who was the children’s primary caregiver before the separation. Rights and responsibilities are legal while physical custody refers to where the kids live.

Legal Rights and Responsibilities

The custodial parent maintains key legal rights like medical decision-making, choice of schooling, religious upbringing, etc. They must care for the child’s daily needs and make sure their rights are protected. With physical custody, they are responsible for things like routine care, supervision, and residence.

Visitation Schedule

Since the non-custodial parent still retains specific visitation rights, the custodial parent must comply with court-ordered parenting time or visitation. This ensures the child has continuing contact with both parents. The schedule may allow for reasonable phone access as well.

Child Support Payments

The non-custodial parent will likely pay formal child support to the custodial parent on a monthly basis to contribute to housing, food, clothing and other costs related to bringing up a child. Child support is often determined as a percentage of income and may be set per state guidelines.

Decision-Making Authority

Major decisions regarding education, healthcare, religious upbringing, or anything substantially affecting the welfare of the child should still involve input from both legal parents even if one is non-custodial. For divorced families, joint legal custody arrangements often establish shared decision-making protocols.

Moving Residency

Since custody status directly relates to the child’s residence, the custodial parent cannot relocate the primary residence very far without permission. Moving out-of-state with the child may require approval from the courts after proper notice is given to the other parent.

What is a Non-Custodial Parent?

The non-custodial parent does not have primary care, custody, or control of the child after divorce. With most custody agreements, the kids live with one parent for a majority of the time. The non-custodial parent typically enjoys regular visitation rights and pays child support.

Visitation Rights

Visitation refers to scheduled parenting time for the non-custodial parent as agreed or court ordered. Typical visitation allows for alternate weekends, split holidays, and a portion of school vacations annually. Courts encourage ongoing positive involvement.

Legal Rights

Non-custodial parents retain certain legal custody rights related to major areas like religion, education, healthcare, etc. But the custodial parent manages the daily routine. Non-custodial parents cannot interfere with established procedures.

Child Support Obligations

There is a legal expectation of financial support from non-custodial parents. They must pay court-determined monthly child support. The rules vary by state, but often the courts will calculate a percentage based on the parent’s income and number of children.

Shared Parenting

If both parents live near each other, share similar child-rearing values, and get along well, they can consider a shared parenting arrangement. With cooperation, it provides substantial contact with both parents. The courts still designate a primary custodial parent.

Parenting Time Modifications

Over time, changes may arise requiring parenting plan adjustments. Since situations evolve, courts allow for periodic modifications if they are deemed to be in the child’s best interests. Non-custodial parents can petition for increased visitation.

When to Consult an Attorney

Managing divorce, child custody, parenting time, and cooperation across two households can pose challenges for any family. Working with an experienced local family law attorney from Northwest Family Law helps ensure parents understand their rights and responsibilities after separation or divorce. An attorney from our team can guide the legal process, filing requirements, and document preparation around custody and child access. Representation at hearings may also prove beneficial to protect your rights as a parent.

If you would like to speak to one of our attorneys, you can find us at the addresses below.

  • Kirkland – 1207 Market St. Kirkland, WA 98033

Alternatively, you can call now for a free consultation on (206) 792-0981.