A custodial parent is the parent with whom a child resides with full time. Most custodial parents have been awarded physical custody of a child by a court of law. Generally, the parent with primary custody is also considered the primary care parent. He or she usually assumes the responsibility of providing all of the essential needs for the child. This may include providing shelter, clothing and food.
There are typically situations which lead to a person becoming the parent with primary custody. In most cases, the role is awarded following a legal separation or divorce. The parent chosen to have primary custody is usually the one who has shown that he or she can most adequately meet all of the needs of the child. In addition to feeding, clothing and providing a suitable residence, the parent may also need to show that he or she will provide a stable environment. This may mean that the parent will not be traveling often with or without the child, so that he or she can settle into one primary place of residence.
The opposite of a custodial parent is a non-custodial parent. This is the parent with whom the child does not reside with full time. Typically, there will be designated periods for the child to spend time with this parent. In a custody agreement, the time periods may be legally defined. Often, time with the parent who does not have primary custody may be limited to the weekends, holidays and summer months, as this time may coexist with the child's school schedule.
In most cases, a non-custodial parent will have certain obligations to the parent with primary custody. Generally, receiving some type of financial assistance from the nonresidential parent is one of the major parental rights. For this reason, non-residential parents may have to pay child support to the primary parent to supplement the financial costs of taking care of the child. In addition, he or she may be held responsible for paying other child expenses as well. This may include paying for child care, health insurance, school uniforms, extracurricular activities and recreational activities.
Certain situations may call for adjustments to be made in the primary custody arrangement. For instance, if the parent with whom the child resides full time becomes ill and is no longer able to take care of the child, the non-residential parent may have to assume the role as the primary care giver. If the primary care parent fails to continuously provide a stable environment for the child, the agreement may be changed as well. This may include the parent taking on a job requiring him or her to travel a lot or if he or she frequently changes residences. Additionally, if the child decides that he or she wishes to reside full time with the non-custodial parent, this may be another reason for the parental roles to change.