Understanding Parent Custody Rights

Understanding Parent Custody Rights

A parent with custody has the right to control basically every facet of a child’s life.  The old adage of “so long as you are living under my roof you will follow my rules” is very true.  Parents have a lot of rights and children have next to none.  

Major life decisions

The ability to make long-term decisions for a child is called legal custody.  Usually, both parents equally share parental custody rights when it comes to legal custody.  For example, if the child needs a major medical procedure usually both parents will be involved in the decision and they will have to agree before anything happens.  This is true even if the child spends a disproportionate amount of time with one of the parents.

Day-to-day decisions

Every day decisions are made by the parent with physical custody.  This is the parent the child is staying with at the moment.  Sometimes, a child will spend all or most of his or her time with one parent.  In other situations, the child will split his or her time almost evenly between each parent.  The parent with physical custody will typical decide things like what the child wears and eats, to the extent the child is too young to make those decisions for him or herself.  

Sticky situations

Parent custody rights often come into question on hotly-disputed issues.  One common sticking point is discipline.  Parents are generally allowed to use reasonable force or other punishments to discipline their children.  Parents do not always agree on what should be allowed in this area, though.  

For example, one parent might believe in spanking to teach a child and the other parent may not approve of that.  Discipline is generally an issue of legal custody, meaning both parents should decide together if discipline is allowed, but sometimes the parent with physical custody will deviate from the prior agreement.  

Disputed parent custody rights

Parents should do everything they can to work out disputes amongst themselves.  If they cannot, they have the right to go to court and ask a judge to weigh in on the dispute.  

For example, if one parent routinely blows off their agreed-upon child drop off time, then a judge can be asked to hold that parent in contempt.  The judge could also order one or both of the parents to attend counseling or parenting classes.  Judges do not like to be bothered with trivial disputes, though, so parents should only use the court as a last resort.  

Who gets parent custody rights?

Custody is usually agreed upon at the time of a divorce.  The parents will generally be required to work out a plan between themselves and the judge will review and approve it before granting the divorce.  If the couple cannot work it out, then the judge can make an independent decision, but judges generally resist making specific decisions on such personal matters.  

Divorce is not the only situation where disputed custody rights can come up.  Sometimes a father may have to file a paternity action to gain joint custody of a child living with an unmarried mother.

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