The rights of a custodial parent can vary by jurisdiction as well as the terms set forth in a parenting plan established in a divorce settlement or legal custody arrangement. In situations where a parent has full legal and physical custody of a child, the rights of the custodial parent are significant and include the ability to make all or most decisions about a child's day-to-day life. A parent who shares legal custody of his child with the child's other parent must also share decision-making rights unless their custody arrangement specifies otherwise.
In the United States, parents who do not live together often have one of two types of custody arrangements. The first is a sole custody arrangement in which the child lives with the parent who has the responsibility for providing daily childcare and making decisions about the child's religion, schooling, and medical care. The noncustodial parent may have the right to regularly visit with the child and may be required to pay child support but is very limited in his ability to influence major child rearing decisions. The other type of custody arrangement is known as joint custody, which provides both parents with the right to make major decisions about their child's upbringing, and in some cases requires the parents to share physical custody of the child such that the child spends equal, or close to equal, amounts of time living with each parent.
The parent with full legal custody often has the right to decide where the child lives and may even be able take the child to live somewhere far away from the non-custodial parent. The custodial parent may also decide where a child goes to school and determine a child's religious upbringing. Medical decisions may also be up to this parent. In some cases, only a custodial parent can remove a child from school or take the child out of the state or country for the purpose of travel. While a custodial parent is often responsible for making sure that children are available for visits with the non-custodial parent, some jurisdictions also prescribe penalties for non-custodial parents who fail to pick up their children for visitation, essentially giving custodial parents the right to have their plans during visitation periods respected.
In some cases, a custodial parent may voluntarily agree to give the non-custodial parents specific rights, such as the right to oversee a child's religious training. This sort of agreement may be a part of the divorce process and incorporated into the divorce decree. Matters of custody can also be challenged and changed over the years, with some parents voluntarily modifying child custody arrangements and others challenging an arrangement that no longer seems to be serving the best interest of the child or children involved.