Custodial and Non-Custodial Parenting

Let’s talk about custody. And, to be clear, we’re referring to two, normal caring parents with kids that get a divorce and how custody is determined.

(Editor’s note: This article isn’t about those instances where there may be child abuse or other harmful behaviors proving detrimental to the child and a clear case can be made that it’s not in the best interest of that child to be in contact with the parent in question. If this is the case, make sure you get someplace safe and seek professional help to take the appropriate steps.)

Determining Custody

Basically, there are two types of custody arrangements; legal and physical.

1. Legal custody is all about the important decisions that need to be made in the raising of children, covering things like education, religious and ethical beliefs, disciplinary actions and standards, and medical care.

2. Physical custody is the physical care and control of the child.

If you have joint legal and physical custody, both parents have the right to make all the vital decisions for your child and must work together to determine what is best for your child. Physical custody, even if jointly held, isn’t necessarily a true 50/50 split when it comes to time spent with each parent. Often, while children are young or in school, they may spend more time with one parent than the other merely because that’s what works best for the child.

Custodial vs. Non-Custodial

The first step in any divorce situation that involves children is to understand exactly what the terms “custody” and “custodial” really mean and how they apply to your specific situation.

When you’re a custodial parent, it means your child resides with you a majority of the time, or you have been given sole physical custody. Often courts give parents joint custody of their child, but the parent with the larger timeshare with the child would be referred to as the custodial parent.

The prospect of being the non-custodial parent shouldn’t be looked at as a negative thing. You can be just as involved in your child’s life as the custodial parent, and bear an equal share in the responsibilities of parenthood. It does not mean you’re uncaring, unfit or not present. ;Yes, a disappearing mom or dad can often turn out to be the non-custodial parent, but it certainly doesn’t have to define how your relationship with your child should or will be.

The rights of a non-custodial parent will vary depending on the custody determination. Only in cases where one parent is given sole physical and legal custody does the entire responsibility for the care and raising of the child as well as all decision-making concerning the welfare of the child fall on one parent. And, in most cases, the non-custodial parent is given visitation with their child and the custodial parent must comply with the order.

It’s Not Solely about Gender Anymore

Statistics show that there are three times as many single-mom households as single-dad households. But today, determining custody is more about the child’s best interest and not the long-standing “Tender Years Doctrine” from the prior century. (This doctrine refers to the judicial presumption that operates in divorce cases to give custody of a young child to the mother.)

It’s becoming more and more common to see dads assuming physical custody and proving they can do as good a job as moms in the rearing of their children — even younger children, though consideration may be taken for nursing babies and short-term solutions worked into the custody arrangements.

While dads may encounter bias when it comes to their natural abilities and instincts related to childcare, mothers face bias of a different nature. Often, mothers given non-custodial status can be subjected to all sorts of untrue speculation, with acquaintances or even close friends automatically thinking she must be unfit or unwilling to mother her children.

As a society, we must let go of such age-old, traditional assumptions and embrace a new way, a better way: one that is always slanted toward prioritizing the best interest of the children and having both parents involved in their children’s lives.

The Best Interest of the Child Always Comes First

In an article for our Wevorce blog, “Divorce Survival Plan —Part I,” we discussed what it means to put your children first.

It means to parent, and eventually co-parent, in an effective, cooperative (and even friendly) way, keeping your children’s welfare at the heart of the matter to create a loving and safe environment in which they can thrive and be happy.

We understand how difficult divorce is. We do. But making sure your children’s best interest remains at the forefront during such emotional upheaval is important. It’s not about your anger … it’s about the kids. It’s not about being right … it’s about the kids. It’s not about you or your spouse … it’s about your kids.

When you’re a mom or dad, what divorce is about is planning ahead and building a very specific parenting plan. It’s about setting up rules as co-parents to follow; no exceptions. It’s about being the grown-ups and doing the hard stuff like:

  • Never fighting in front of the kids.
  • Never putting them in the middle or use them as leverage.
  • Never making them choose between you, and never use them as messengers.
  • Never putting the other parent down in front of them.
  • Never grilling them about time spent with the other parent.
  • Never forgetting you are the adult and they are the child.

A Power Imbalance

Sometimes a power imbalance can appear between a custodial and a non-custodial parent. By understanding clearly the differences between these roles and what your custody arrangements and responsibilities are, you can avoid such an imbalance with your co-parent.

Remembering to follow the five rules for co-parents will help.

1. Keep your personal feelings in check when dealing with each other. When a parent allows vindictive squabbles or behavior to influence their parenting decisions, the child is the one who loses.

2. If your ex-spouse has been given visitation rights, don’t withhold these rights or try to control the situation. Every child needs both parents involved in their lives. Being petty or badmouthing one another shows poor judgment. Remember, this arrangement isn’t about you, but your child. Driving the other parent away will only leave your child broken-hearted.

3. Don’t embrace the “weekend dad” (or mom) cliché. Try not to stress yourself out about making every minute of your time with your kids extraordinary, and don’t worry about how much you spend on them. What kids really want is to spend quality time with you.

4. Share the responsibilities. Discipline and house rules should be determined by co-parents together and enforced together. Children need routine and consistency. If you fall into the battle of the exes, trying to make the kids like you best, everyone loses.

5. Be flexible but dependable with schedules and parenting demands. If you are the non-custodial parent, and your kids spend more time with the custodial parent, perhaps offer to give them a deserved break from it all. Do your best to treat each other with respect — after all, they are the mother/father of your child.

Don’t Confuse Child Support with Child Custody

In an article written by Kay Lee for LegalZoom, Lee talks about child support and how it relates to custody. “Although wholly related to custody decisions, child support is considered a separate legal issue. Child support laws are set at the state level, and although the details are different, the major concepts are similar. Child support is the amount of money that one parent provides the other to help with the child’s education, maintenance, and lifestyle. The amount of child support is determined by the amount of time or overnights that each parent spends with his child, the incomes of both parents and their earning potential, and other factors specific to the parents.”

In weLife‘s “How Child Support is Determined,” we suggest creating a budget to better understand just how much is needed when it comes to raising your children.

If you’re a divorcing parent, it may be helpful for you to sit down and create an actual budget that figures in the real expenses involved in day-to-day child raising, specific to your own children. Fact-based decision making is always easier than decisions made on assumptions or generalizations. Many parents find themselves surprised, and more understanding of child support guidelines, once they have seen at least an initial overview of what they have been spending on their children up to and until the time of divorce. Then deciding what is needed to continue to support the children adequately can be easier.”

Don’t Get Hung up on the Labels

Whether you’re the custodial or non-custodial parent, you have a duty to your children to be the best parent you can be, regardless of divorce or separation, and regardless of what name you might be called along the way. In the end, you’re still Mom and Dad, and this means working together and trusting you are both on the same page concerning their rearing. The better you have this handled — the more you cooperate in making unified decisions — the healthier and happier your kids will be. We promise.