Going through a divorce is rough, especially if you have children with your ex. The decision about who will become the custodial parent can become really bitter. You should keep in mind, though, that even if your relationship has ended, your kids still need you to work together for them. Doing your best to be cordial with your ex-partner makes the transition a lot easier. It's even better if you can work out custody before going before the court.

Unfortunately, that is not always an option. In those cases, the court will have to work out the custody agreement. They will decide who becomes the children's custodial parent and set up visitation for the other parent. No matter which route you take, there are some critical things to keep in mind to make your new journey a smooth one -- for all of you.

Who Is a Custodial Parent?

little girl holding a drawing of a house with her parents in the background

If your children live with you for most of the time, then you probably already think of yourself as the custodial parent. What you might be wondering is, are you legally the custodial parent? This answer might come as a surprise, but the courts don’t consider all parents who have sole physical custody of their children as legal custodial parents.

For example, consider a single mother who is raising her children on her own while the father is voluntarily unavailable. The courts will still expect the mother to file for child custody to get legal consideration as the custodial parent.

Therefore, if you are unsure of your custodial status, it is wise to get advice from your family lawyer. You can also check whether you are the custodial parent legally by reviewing the child custody laws of your respective state.

Determining custody

mom and dad fighting over the custody of their son

You might be wondering how the courts determine custody. For clarity, please note that we are referring to two normal caring parents who had children together and got divorced. Custody is not decided based on income. The capacity to provide a secure and safe environment is what determines custody.

While there are many different custody arrangements, we are going to discuss two types of custody: legal custody and physical custody.

Legal custody

Physical custody

What Are the Benefits of a Custodial Parent?

mom and her child

The biggest benefit of being the custodial parent of your children is getting the chance to spend more one on one time with them. It doesn’t matter if you and your ex-spouse have a generous visitation schedule. It’s still more likely that you spend much more time with them if you are the custodial parent.

Due to this privilege, custodial parents are more deeply involved in activities such as homework, providing guidance as they grow and face challenges, and nurturing their interests.

What do custodial parents get in return? Is there a big payoff or thank you headed your way? Well, as you already know by now, being the single custodial parent means you are doing all the hard work. Moreover, being the source of unconditional love generally means walking side by side with your kids on their worst days.

They might mouth you off, proclaim their hate for you, and test boundaries but, at the end of it all, they appreciate all your effort and love. It's hard for a custodial parent to notice this, but your children can see every sacrifice you make.

What you need to understand is, even though it might take years for your kids to say how much they appreciate your love, they get it, and it means a lot to them.

What Should I Expect as a Custodial Parent?

dad with his daughter and son

As the custodial parent, you are the primary parent who shares a home with your child. If you are going to be the custodial parent, there are some things that you should expect. Below is a list of some information on what you should anticipate as the custodial parent of your children.

It’s not about gender

child torn between chosing his mom or dad

According to statistics, there are as many single mom households as there are single-dad households. Regardless of gender, it’s all about determining what is best for the child. In years past, courts tended to follow the Tender Years Doctrine. This meant that the judicial system generally gave custody of a young child to its mother. However, this is no longer the case. It's becoming more commonplace to see dads assuming custodial rights of their children at a young age. However, it's important to note that the courts might make some considerations when it comes to nursing babies.

It's normal for dads to encounter bias when it comes to their abilities to take care of young children. Mothers often face bias of a different nature. When the courts do not give mothers custodial status, people sometimes subject them to all sorts of untrue speculation. Friends and close acquaintances will often think they are unwilling or unfit to take care of their children. It is therefore vital that we let go of such backward thinking and instead embrace better ways of viewing custody that promote what is best for the child.

More Responsibility

Maintaining a Visitation Schedule

Tracking Child Support

Consulting with the Non-Custodial Parent

The Best Interest of the Child

Notify Co-Parent of Relocation

Custodial vs. Noncustodial

drawing of a family where one of the parent is slightly erased

Being a noncustodial parent shouldn't feel like a negative thing. You are still able to enjoy your child’s life just as the custodial parent does. You will still have the opportunity to share in the responsibility of raising your children. While an absent dad or mom can turn out to be a noncustodial parent, it doesn’t mean that all noncustodial parents are not present or unfit. Custody should not define your relationship with your children.

The court will decide the rights of both the custodial and noncustodial parent. It is only in cases where a single parent gets sole physical and legal custody that the entire responsibility of caring and raising the child will fall on them alone. In most cases, the noncustodial parent will get visitation rights with their children. The custodial parent must respect and comply with the legal order.

The Difference Between Child Support and Child Custody

child support text on top of money

Confusing these two things is easy. While they both relate to decisions of custody, child support is a different legal issue altogether. Child support laws are generally set at the state level.

Child support is money a single parent provides to the other to help with the child’s lifestyle, maintenance, and education. The amount needed for a particular case is determined by the total amount of time each parent spends with the child. Income and earning potential are also significant factors.

It is advisable as the noncustodial parent that you create a budget. With this tool, custodial parents are in a much better position to understand how much money is needed to raise your child. If you are the custodial parent, it may be worth your time to create a budget as well. Make sure that you factor in the real expenditure involved in raising your child. Also, ensure it is specific to the child in question.

When it comes to delicate situations such as these, fact-based decision making is always easier. Participants in custody cases need to avoid decisions made on generalizations or assumptions. Things will only become clear when you do a thorough review of expenditures.

Your Children Will Be Okay

It's important to note that the custody of your child when you divorce only implies to who your child will physically reside with. It doesn’t affect your responsibility as a parent since both parents will remain as the natural guardians. The custodial parent will be the primary caretaker who is responsible for medical, educational and emotional needs of the child. But this doesn't mean that the noncustodial parent will lose the right to see their child or be involved in their lives.

Divorce is hard, but your children do not have to suffer. As long as you and your ex-spouse respect one another, the agreement you have laid out, and love your children, everything will be okay.

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