In California and across the United States, approximately 50 percent of marriages end in divorce. Many of these marriages involve children. The term "custodial parent" is typically defined by the parent who has physical custody of their children for the majority of the time after a divorce. This doesn't mean that the other parent isn't involved in their children's lives, but it does mean that the custodial parent typically bears more responsibility of child-rearing. Even if parents have agreed on a co-parenting situation, the custodial parent will be assigned custody for the majority of the time.
There are two different types of child custody: legal and physical. Many parents have joint legal custody, which means that health, religious and school decisions should be made together, but the custodial parent will have the children living with him or her for more than 50 percent of the time. Often, a parent who has the children for most of the time automatically assumes they are the custodial parent. The courts may require that the parent file for sole custody in order for this status to be official.
Custodial parents benefit by being able to spend more time with their children. Because they have the custody of the child for the majority of the time, a custodial parent is typically more involved in the child's hobbies, after-school activities, schooling and time spent together. The custodial parent may also benefit by receiving financial help through child support.
Because custodial parenting laws vary from state to state, it may be important to contact a family law lawyer in order to determine parental rights, file for sole custody and make arrangements for physical custody. In the case of a single mother who is raising children on her own because the father voluntarily does not want to be involved, a lawyer may be able to file for sole custody on behalf of the mother and file for child support to receive financial benefits.