What Does it Mean to be a Primary Residential Parent?

primary residential parent

It’s National Back To School Month, and what better month to talk about primary residential status as a custodian in Kentucky.  This time of year brings to the surface legal disagreements over where children will attend school.  It seems like a good time to explain the terms “primary residential parent” (PRP) and “primary residential custodian”(PRC).

For many years, parents battled over the “primary residential custody” status of their children because it was understood to give the PRC the right to make decisions for the child without agreement of the non-residential parent.  Often, this took the form of where the child would attend school, or the activities in which the children would be enrolled.   The PRC would trample on the rights of the other parent by scheduling activities during the other parent’s time.  Another common argument was that the PRC would “control” the registration of the child in a school district and make it difficult for the other parent to participate in activities or gain information.

The Kentucky Supreme Court sorted out the issue in 2008 with the case of Pennington v Marcum,  a landmark decision in our state.  The Court clarified that the term “primary residential custodian” is only appropriately used when one parent has sole custody.  When referring to a joint custody arrangement, the Court now uses the term “primary residential parent”.   The Pennington Court made it clear that in joint custody, neither parent gets a higher status in decision-making rights.  EVERY major decision should be made with agreement of the parties.  If unable to agree, the Court will ultimately decide.

The Court now uses PRP to designate where the child’s “home” will be primarily in reference to school registration.  It is usually awarded to the parent that has more parenting time through the week. It has very little meaning otherwise.  PRP status does NOT give the PRP the right to determine the school registration or to exclude the other party in any major decision.  It only gives the PRP the right to enroll the child in the school where the PRP resides.  If the PRP moves their home causing a change of school for the child, the PRP is required to provide written notice of the new address to the other parent.  If the other parent objects, the Court will review the issue again using the “best interests” standard for custody determinations.

It is now common practice for parties with a nearly equal parenting schedule to agree that neither is the PRP.  This arrangement usually involves the parties residing in the same school district.  For the children, there is no doubt that this arrangement is the best so long as the parties behave.  No long car rides back and forth.  No meeting at police stations to exchange parenting time.  Often the children are allowed to go freely back and forth between the parents as needed or desired.  As a custody lawyer, I truly appreciate when parents can place their children’s needs above their own while going through a divorce or custody dispute.  I am certain their children will thank them someday.