What is residential custody of a child?

Another term that is sometimes used to describe a parent who has sole custody of their child is residential custody. This refers to the fact that the child resides full time with one parent. This is opposed to joint custody or shared custody, which is when a child lives in relatively equal amounts of time with each parent.

Is Residential Custody the same as Sole Custody?

The parent with primary residential custody merely refers to the parent with whom the children spend the majority of their time. This parent has sole physical custody. The primary residential custody of the children is agreed on by the parents or enacted by determination of the court.

The non-residential parent has visitation time with the child/children which is generally called “parenting time”. With both sole custody and joint custody, a parenting time schedule outlines the time spent with each parent. A common parenting time arrangement gives the non-residential parent time with the child every other weekend and one weeknight in some cases.

In most custody arrangements, courts will name the mother as the custodial or residential parent. This may vary on occasion since ultimately custody decisions should be made based on the best interests of the child.

Change in Custody Practices

In the past, real joint residential custody arrangements were more common. In these arrangements, the child’s time was split in half between both parents. This practice is used less and less nowadays because it’s considered too disruptive by many judges. While joint residential custody may be possible, it is not always what is best for the child. Stability and predictability are important for a young child, especially for an infant or toddler. In a situation where custody is truly split 50/50, the child is constantly moving back and forth between parents creating a chaotic and disruptive environment. Additionally, if the parents live far away from each other the stress of travel alone may be too much for a child to tolerate.    

If the parties actually attempt a true joint custody arrangement, they have to be able to get along and communicate well for it to be effective. The parents will be interacting on a frequent basis and need to maintain a civil relationship for the benefit of their child.  

Legal Custody

Legal Custody deals with the question of “who makes the important decisions in the child’s life?” The important decisions can deal with many things ranging from religion to medical care and schooling. It may be a bad idea for parents to have joint custody if they have opposing views on certain issues. For example, one parent may want the child to attend a private school rather than public school. One parent may be very religious whereas the other parent might not be. Therefore it is best for a single parent to be in charge of the big choices.

Child Support

If one parent has residential custody then they are entitled to child support from the other parent. Much conflict arises over child support. The amount of time spent with the child can directly affect the amount of that is paid. Child support laws differ from state to state so it is important to learn the law or consult with a lawyer before working out a parenting time agreement.

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