If you are a parent and you and your spouse are considering a divorce, you will need to plan ahead and have a specific plan for parenting your child. 

This plan may include setting up rules to follow with no exceptions. Most importantly, it is about being an adult and dealing with difficult issues, such as child custody. Being familiar with what it means to be a custodial parent will help make navigating this new path smoother for you and your family.  

How is child custody determined?

There are basically two types of child custody: physical and legal.

If you have physical custody, you are responsible for the control and care of your child. While you may not be the custodial parent in legal custody, you still play a big part in decisions related to your child’s schooling, religion, ethical and moral beliefs, medical care, and disciplinary actions.

If you have joint legal and physical custody with your spouse, both of you have the right to make vital decisions about your child. You and your ex-spouse must be able to work together to figure out what is in the best interest of your child.

Keep in mind that joint physical custody may not be a 50/50 split of the time your child spends with each of you. For example, if your child is young, he or she  may spend more time with one parent than the other.

What is in the best interest of your child?

We understand how hard divorce is on you, your child, and your ex-spouse. However, the courts will always do what they believe is in the best interest of your child. Therefore, you and your ex-spouse should do the same. 

It is important to remember that the best interest of your child is not about the anger you and your ex-spouse may feel toward one another, and it is not about being right. It is about your child and nothing else.

In order for you and your ex-spouse to both be adults and do what is in the best interest of your child, you should avoid some things. They include:

1. Do not fight in front of your child.

2. Do not put your child in the middle of you and your ex-spouse, and do not use him or her as a pawn against your ex-spouse.

3. Do not force your child to choose between you and your ex-spouse, and do not use him or her as a messenger because you do not want to talk to your ex-spouse. 

4. Do not interrogate your child about the time he or she spends with your ex-spouse

5. Do not forget that you are supposed to be the adult, and he or she is  your child.

How do I become the custodial parent?

For you to legally be appointed the custodial parent of your child, you and your child custody attorney must file for custody in family court.  While some individuals have been successful in filing to be the custodial parent on their own, it is always best to use a child custody attorney who can help you with the process and develop a strategy to win your case. 

It is important to note that the term ‘custodial parent’ is frequently misunderstood. In your child custody case, the custodial parent could have sole custody. However, if joint custody is awarded by the court, the custodial parent will have the majority of the parenting time with his or her child. 

If the court orders a 50/50 joint custody arrangement, the custody of your child is split equally, and neither parent will be considered the custodial parent.  In other words, neither you nor your ex-spouse has more power or authority than the other. 

What are the rights of the custodial parent?

If you share legal custody with your ex-spouse, then you are responsible for all the aspects of having physical custody of your child. You must remember that your ex-spouse has a legal right to have a voice in all major decisions regarding your child. Just because your child lives with you, you do not have sole authority to make all important decisions regarding your child. 

What are your custodial rights if legal custody is shared?

If you and your spouse have joint legal custody, you can make the day-to-day decisions regarding your child. But both you and your ex-spouse must make any important decisions when it comes to your child. 

For example, if your ex-spouse has joint legal custody, he or she has the right to have a voice in your child’s medical care, what schools he or she attends, and any other major decisions that involve your child.  You and your ex-spouse are expected to cooperate in the rearing of your child.

Do custodial parents receive child support?

The answer is: It depends. In some cases, whichever parent is the non-custodial parent may receive child support from the custodial parent.

The formula most state courts use in determining child support depends on both the amount of parenting time you and your ex-spouse have and on your combined incomes. 

If the non-custodial parent makes a lot less money than the custodial parent, it is possible that the custodial parent may have to pay child support. 

Is there a power imbalance between a custodial and non-custodial parent? 

In some cases, an imbalance of power may arise between you and your ex-spouse. You can avoid such an imbalance by following some simple rules for being an effective co-parent with your ex-spouse.  These rules include:

1. When you and your ex-spouse have to deal with each other, keep your personal feelings in check. Neither of you should allow your vindictive behavior or arguments to influence any decisions you have to make when parenting your child. In the end, your child will be the one who loses.

2. Do not withhold your ex-spouse’s visitation rights or try to control the situation. Your child needs both you and your ex-spouse to be involved in his or her life. If you are petty or badmouthing each other, you will appear to have poor judgment.  It is important for you to remember that this situation is not about you; it is about your child. If you work to drive your child’s other parent away, your child will be broken-hearted.

3. Do not participate in the weekend mom/dad cliché. Do not stress yourself out about making every second you spend with your child extra special, and do not worry about how much or little money you spend on him or her. All your child really wants is your time.

4. Share responsibility. You and your ex-spouse should decide the way you and your ex-spouse discipline your child. Therefore, you should form house rules together, and both of you should enforce those rules. Your child needs consistency and routine. If you get into a battle of the exes and try to make your child like you best, all of you lose in the end.

5. Be flexible but dependable. If you happen to be the non-custodial parent and your child is spending more time with the custodial parent, you could offer to give him or her  a break. It is important that your child see you and your ex-spouse treat each other with respect.

Conclusion

It is vital that you and your ex-spouse remember this fact: When it comes to the custody of your child, it is never about you, but about what is in the best interest of your child. 

It is becoming more common for a father to assume the custodial parenting role, and dads are proving they are as capable as mothers of raising their children. 

Whether you are the custodial or non-custodial parent, you have a duty to your child to be the best parent you can be, regardless of the separation or divorce. 

In the end, you are still Mom and Dad to your child. In other words, in order to do what is best for your child, you and your ex-spouse must work together and trust that you both have the same goals about raising your child.