Custodial Parent

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A custodial parent is the parent that lives with and cares for their minor child for all (sole physical custody) or most (primary physical custody) of the time. This contrasts with the noncustodial parent, who might have the child on a limited basis or only have visitation rights. Some parents split physical custody equally in a joint custody arrangement, in which case both would be considered custodial parents. This type of arrangement can be made informally by the agreement of both parents or through the courts in a custody lawsuit.

Physical custody differs from legal custody, which is the right to make important decisions for and about the child. Custodial parents who have sole physical custody and sole legal custody are deemed to have sole custody and need not consult the noncustodial parent in decision-making. A custodial parent might instead share legal custody with the noncustodial parent; called joint legal custody, this means the parents must consult each other on major issues about the child regardless of who the child lives with. In either case, custodial parents are often required to follow court orders regarding the noncustodial parent, such as facilitating visitation or not moving out of a certain location without approval.

[Last updated in June of 2021 by the Wex Definitions Team