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Custodial rights are rights determined by a court during divorce proceedings when decisions are made about which parent should care for the children. Courts use information including arguments from attorneys, testimony from mediators, and other materials to assign custodial rights to one or both parents. They can be periodically adjusted and updated to address changes that may occur as children grow up, parents find new jobs or are forced to move, and in response to other life events.
Typically, one parent is given primary custody, sometimes known as residence. The child spends the majority of the time at this parent's house and this parent's custodial rights also include the obligation to assume primary caregiving for the child. The other parent may be assigned visitation rights and asked to pay child support to help the custodial parent. Visitation rights can range from overnight or weekend stays at the non-custodial parent's home to supervised visits in public, or other avenues for interaction with the child depending on the court ruling.
Determining custodial rights is a challenging process. Sometimes parents and children work with a mediator to reach an agreement they think is appropriate and present the agreement in court for approval. This eliminates a lot of work for the court in addition to providing an amicable solution to questions about custody and child care. In other cases, parents may litigate for custodial rights and the dispute can turn sour if the parents do not agree on what is best for the child.
As children grow older, their views may be increasingly considered when evaluating the question of where they should live. Other factors can include where a child is going to school, involvement in after school activities, and other issues that might make one parent's household more convenient than the other's. If changes need to be made to the child custody agreement, the couple may be able to work out an agreement with a mediator and send it to a judge to approve, or they may need to go back into court to discuss the matter.
There may be situations where a parent is deemed a danger to a child and is not given any custodial rights, or is given very limited rights, such as periodic supervised visitations. Courts are legally and ethically required to take any steps they feel are appropriate to protect the welfare of a child. This can include denying custodial rights if this action is deemed appropriate. Cases where this is common include divorces where domestic violence has been involved and one parent has taken out a restraining order against the other.