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Residential Parent Custody Awards

A “residential parent custody award” is one in which the court decides with whom a child will live. Such an award differs from an award of legal custody, in which the court determines who shall make the important decisions affecting the child’s health and welfare. One parent may be awarded both residential custody and legal custody, but it is not required.


There are various reasons why a court will award residential custody to one parent. The parent may live closer to the school which the child attends, or at least within the school district, while the other parent lives some distance away. The parent may live near friends and relatives of the child, and the court may not want to unduly separate the child from those with which the child has established a close relationship. One parent’s work hours or lifestyle may make it difficult for that parent to be at home with the child during morning or evening hours or to provide transportation for the child’s activities. A court may find that one parent is abusive or violent, or that the parent is involved in a relationship that would be harmful to the child and that it is best if the child is placed with the other parent or a nonparent. As always, the most important standard is the best interests of the child.

The fact that one parent has been awarded residential custody of a child does not stop the court from awarding joint legal custody to both parents. Where both parents can communicate and reach joint decisions concerning the health, education, and welfare of the child, the court may award joint legal custody, while at the same time awarding residential custody to one parent.

Modification of Custody

Where there is a change in circumstances of the parents, the court may consider a change in residential custody. One or both parents may move out of the community or state. The parent with residential custody may take a new job, which would affect the time that parent can spend with the child. When there is a change that affects the child, the court will again look at the best interests of the child in making a decision whether to change residential custody.