What is the difference between custody and parental rights?

By Mary Smith. Updated: January 16, 2017
What is the difference between custody and parental rights?

When there is a divorce or a separation of marriage or of a civil partnership where children are involved, legal terminology gets thrown around which, in many cases, leads to confusion. This is the case with the concepts of "parental rights" and "custody". Both concepts will affect the family and it is very important that they are clear to parents. At we will explain what the difference between custody and parental rights is.

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The end of cohabitation status between parents

When a couple with children want to dissolve their marriage or terminate their relationship and cohabitation, the law establishes a procedure so that children are fully protected, and are also able to maintain a continuous, fair and healthy relationship with their parents once separated.

By mutual agreement or through a petition, the couple must accept a series of measures endorsed by a judge. Among them will be deciding who will guarantee parental responsibility and custody of the children. A step further down the line, is the establishment of visitation rights, who the child will spend certain holidays with or how much child support will be provided by each parent.

What is the difference between custody and parental rights? - The end of cohabitation status between parents

Parental rights

As a general rule, and unless one of the parents is legally unable to do so, parental rights and responsibility will be the obligation of both parents. But what are parental rights and how do you lose the right to exercise it?

Parental responsibility is the bundle of rights and obligations that parents have towards their children: protection, education, food, shelter, health, training, hygiene, upbringing... In short, everything a child needs for full development and cannot procure for himself.

For many, it is sufficient to say that parental responsibility is any obligation and liability of being a parent, to ensure the proper development and welfare of children.

In general, parental rights rests with both parents and is only lost when a judge considers that the parent does not fulfill the duties and obligations, that he is not qualified to do so or the child has been given up for adoption. Similarly, parental responsibility expires with the coming of age of children and their ability to care for themselves.


Often custody and parental rights are two concepts that people confuse. Once you have clarified what parental rights are, we have to clarify what the custody of children is.

Fundamentally, custody refers to the person who takes care of the child, they must care for, protect, feed and house them for the majority of the time or for alternative periods. Children live with the person who has custody and this person is responsible for taking them to school, to the doctor, feeding them, watching their hygiene... all without prejudice to the rights of the other parent in deciding on matters of your child.

Usually, custody is granted to the mothers of children. However, for a quite some time now, awarding Joint custody is becoming more common. Thus, regardless of visitation rights, joint custody also entitles the children stay overnight for alternate or successive periods of time with each parent. The parent with the child under his roof at that particular moment in time, has custody until the child goes back to spend time with the other parent.

If you want to read similar articles to What is the difference between custody and parental rights?, we recommend you visit our Family Relationships category.

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