What Is the Difference Between Child Custody & Parental Rights?

By Kelly Mroz

In child custody proceedings, the court assigns the rights and responsibilities for raising a child. The court can allocate custody rights between the parents, but also has the option to assign custody rights to people who are not the parents, such as grandparents. Just being a parent does not assure you of custody time; the court can decide not to give a parent any custody time but still require that parent to fulfill his responsibilities regarding his child, such as financial support. In a divorce, the terms 'child custody' and 'parental rights' are particularly confusing because some courts use them interchangeably.

Parent

Federal and state law defines what makes a person a 'parent.' You may become a parent through biology or adoption. A court can also decide that you are a parent, even if you are not of blood relation to the child and have not adopted the child. An example of this is when a husband accepts a child as his own, even though he knows his wife was unfaithful. When he asks for a DNA test during their divorce a few years later, the court may decide that he is still legally the father because of his earlier actions in accepting the child. Whether you become a parent by having a child, adopting a child or getting yourself named as a parent by the court, your basic rights and responsibilities as a parent are the same.

Rights and Responsibilities

The term 'parental rights' refers to both your rights and responsibilities as a parent. You have the right to decide how to raise your child and are responsible for caring for your child, including providing food, shelter, clothing, education, medical care, affection and appropriate discipline. Courts can terminate parental rights and responsibilities due to abuse or neglect of the child or after a parent gives a child up for adoption. However, if the parents are not married to each other, or are separated or divorced, the courts can divide up parental rights and responsibilities through child custody orders.

Divorce is never easy, but we can help. Learn More

Child Custody

Child custody orders can be made by a court or by the child's parents in an agreement approved by the court, such as a divorce settlement. The court has two sets of rights it can allocate: time and decision making. The court can divide the child's time so that it is shared equally, so that one parent has all the time or anywhere in between. In allocating how decisions will be made, the court may allow one parent to make important choices for the child, such as medical or educational decisions, or require the parents to make these kinds of major decisions jointly.

Custody and Non-Parents

Courts can give custodial rights to individuals who are not a child's parents. Some states allow the courts to grant custody rights to grandparents. Non-parents may be able to get custody rights if there is no fit parent available. Even when there is a fit parent, some states allow non-parents who have been caring for a child to ask for custody.

Interchangeable Terms

Some states, such as Vermont and Ohio, use the terms 'child custody' and 'parental rights' interchangeably. When used this way, 'parental rights' has the same meaning as 'child custody' in other states. The term refers to the court's allocation of who controls the child's time and who makes decisions about the child's upbringing.

Divorce is never easy, but we can help. Learn More
Grandparents Custody Rights in Michigan

References

Related articles

Child Custody: Criteria for a Custodial Parent

During the divorce process, state courts may determine how to divide child custody between the divorcing parents, if the parents cannot come to their own arrangement. Each state sets its own rules for how custody can be divided, including the criteria each court will use to establish a custody arrangement. Generally, parents can agree to their own custody arrangement, but the court will rely on state guidelines, if the parents cannot agree.

Laws Governing Child Custody in South Carolina

Divorcing spouses in South Carolina who agree on how to split custody of their child are free to come up with their own parenting plan that suits their needs and the needs of their child. As long as a South Carolina court finds the plan to be in the child’s best interests, the court will adopt the plan as part of the divorce decree. If spouses cannot agree, the court will create a custody plan for them according to the child’s best interests.

How to Voluntarily Relinquish Parental Rights in Maryland

The relinquishment of parental rights is the giving up of parental rights to one's child or children. Relinquishing your parental rights eliminates all rights and duties you have for your child. This process cannot be reversed. Parents often give up their rights as part of an adoption proceeding. In other cases, parents may voluntarily decide to relinquish their rights when they cannot properly care for their children. All child custody decisions, including the relinquishing of rights, are made in the best interests of the child. If you wish to voluntarily give up your rights to your child or children, there are certain steps you must take to make that effective. However, If the court feels that giving up your rights voluntarily is not in your child's best interests, then the court will not allow the relinquishment.

Get Divorced Online

Related articles

Paternal Visitation & Custody Rights in Michigan

A Michigan father has custodial and visitation rights as awarded by the court. State law doesn't use gender as a factor ...

How Old of an Infant for the Father to Have Custody Rights?

There is no set age at which a father suddenly has custody rights to his infant, though age can be considered in ...

How to Absolve Parental Rights in Ohio When Parents Are Divorced

Ohio courts typically split custody between divorcing parents in a manner they feel is best for the children. Though ...

Child Custody Alternatives

When parents divorce, the court usually must issue an order dividing custody and crafting a visitation schedule that is ...

Browse by category
Ready to Begin? GET STARTED