Child custody and guardianship are legal terms which are sometimes used to describe the legal and practical relationship between a parent and his or her child, such as the right of the parent to make decisions for the child, and the parent's duty to care for the child. Following ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child in most countries, terms such as "custody" and "access" (known as "visitation" in the United States) have been superseded by the concepts of "residence" and "contact". Instead of a parent having "custody" of or "access" to a child, a child is now said to "reside" or have "contact" with a parent. For a discussion of the new international standards, see parental responsibility.
Family law proceedings which involve issues of residence and contact often generate the most acrimonious disputes. It is not uncommon for one parent to accuse the other of trying to "turn" the child(ren) against him or her, allege some form of emotional, physical, or even sexual abuse by the other parent, or for the "residence" parent to disrupt the other parent's contact or communication with the child(ren). Cases of parents removing children from the jurisdiction in violation of court orders, so as to frustrate the other parent's contact with the children, are not unusual.
Courts and legal professionals are beginning to use the term parenting schedule instead of custody and visitation. The new terminology eliminates the distinction between custodial and noncustodial parents, and also attempts to build upon the so-called best interests of the children by crafting schedules that meet the developmental needs of the children. For example, younger children need shorter, more frequent time with parents, whereas older children and teenagers can tolerate and may demand less frequent shifts, but longer blocks of time with each parent.
See paternity for discussion of judicial recognition of affiliation which may be necessary before custody or support may be determined.
While 40% of children whose fathers live outside the home have no contact with their father, the other 60% had contact an average of 69 days in the last year. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Children raised by divorced mother score lower on average than children with continuously married parents on measures of academic success, conduct, psychological adjustment, social competence, and long-term health outcomes. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
87% of mothers and 73% of fathers reported that they hugged their children or showed them physical affection at least once a day. Similarly high percentages reported telling their children daily that they love them (cf Parenting). U.S. Department of Health and Human Services