In a child custody case, a court may name one parent as the primary custodial parent and the other as the non-custodial parent. The designations are applied in matters concerning physical custody. They do not impact the parents’ decision-making responsibilities concerning the children’s care and upbringing. That is an aspect of legal custody. Instead, the custodial and non-custodial designations affect who the children live with and who has visitation rights. A judge will make custody arrangements based on what is in the best interests of the children.
What Is a Non-Custodial Parent?
Parents can be granted two types of custody in California. Legal custody concerns who makes important decisions about the children’s lives. Physical custody is concerned with which parent the children live with.
The “non-custodial parent” designation arises in situations involving physical, not legal, custody. They are the parent who the children live with less than half the time. The other parent – the one the children live with most of the time – is the custodial parent.
In circumstances where parents aren’t together, such as a separation or divorce, and can’t settle on a custody agreement themselves, the court will decide. A judge will award physical custody based on what they believe is in the children’s best interests.
The presumption is that parents get joint physical custody. That means time with the children will be split fairly between the parents, but not necessarily that each parent will get the children 50% of the time. However, if one parent can show that allowing the other access to the children would be detrimental to the kids’ safety, the judge may award sole physical custody.
With sole physical custody, the parent the children live with most of the time is the primary custodial parent. The other parent is the non-custodial parent.
What Are the Non-custodial Parent’s Decision-Making Responsibilities?
Decision-making responsibilities concerning the children’s care are not associated with physical custody. Instead, that is a matter of legal custody.
Legal custody concerns who makes important decisions for the children, such as those for:
- Child care
- Religious upbringing
- Health care
- Extracurricular activities
Like physical custody, legal custody can be awarded as sole or joint. With sole legal custody, one parent has the right to decide on critical matters for their children. With joint, both parents share the responsibility.
A judge can award parents joint legal custody but not joint physical custody. That means the non-custodial parent will have decision-making rights for their children. However, they won’t have the right to have their children live primarily with them.
What Are the Non-Custodial Parent’s Visitation Rights?
Although a judge may order sole physical custody, that does not mean the non-custodial parent won’t have access to their children. In California, both parents should be able to have constant and frequent contact with their children unless some compelling reason exists to prevent one parent from seeing them.
When sole custody is awarded, the non-custodial parent has visitation rights. Visitation determines how and when the non-custodial parent will spend time with their children.
Various visitation arrangements may be made:
- Scheduled: The non-custodial parent has the children on specific dates and times.
- Reasonable: The parents don’t have a specific schedule but agree on an arrangement that works for them.
- Supervised: A third party is present during visits with the non-custodial parent.
In cases where the judge finds that allowing visitation would be detrimental to the children’s safety, they may deny visitation.
If the non-custodial parent is allowed visits with their children, the custodial parent cannot withhold visitation. Doing so may be a violation of court orders, which can result in serious legal consequences, including incarceration.
Speak with an Attorney About Your Case
Protecting your rights to make decisions for and see your children is important. Because of the various arrangements that can be made and the different factors judges consider when deciding on custody, these matters can become complicated and emotional. A family law lawyer can help you through your case. They can explain the two types of custody that may be awarded and your responsibilities and obligations.
At Claery & Hammond, LLP, we provide compassionate legal guidance to parents in Los Angeles. Schedule a consultation by calling us at (310) 817-6904 or contacting us online today.