If you are going through a divorce and have children in common, you've probably heard the terms "joint custody" and "sole custody." These phrases, however, are frequently misunderstood. This article provides an overview of sole custody and explains the meaning of this important term.
In the U.S, child custody can be "joint" (shared) or "sole," (awarded to just one parent). All custody decisions are made by the court and in the best interests of the child.
What is Sole Custody?
A parent with "sole custody" of a child can exclusive physical and legal custody rights concerning the child. These custody arrangements are rare, and are usually limited to situations in which one parent has been deemed unfit or incapable of having any form of responsibility over a child -- for example, due to drug addiction or evidence of child abuse.
In sole custody situations, the child's other parent (also known as the "non-custodial" parent) has neither physical nor legal custody rights, but may be entitled to periods of visitation with the child (though those visits may be supervised, especially in situations involving domestic violence or child abuse).
Difference Between Sole Legal and Sole Physical Custody
Sole Legal Custody: One parent has the right and responsibility to make major decisions regarding the child's welfare, including matters of education, medical care and emotional, moral and religious development.
Sole Physical Custody: The child resides with and under the supervision of one parent, subject to reasonable visitation by the other parent, unless the court determines that such visitation would not be in the best interest of the child.
Benefits of Sole Custody
The benefits of sole custody are that you do not need to consult with the other parent to make important decisions about the child's life, such as education, medical, religious, etc. It does not impact the other parent's right to visitation. A family law attorney can tell you what is admissible in your jurisdiction.
Sole Custody and Relocating
Having sole legal custody doesn't necessarily mean you get to relocate without the court's permission. If the other parents has any visitation rights, relocation jeopardizes his/her rights and therefore relocation is an issue that has to be addressed by the court. Usually the court will issue a temporary order that maintains the status quo during the case. The child usually remains in place, but temporary visitation is set up while the case is ongoing.
An Example of Sole Custody
Example: Mother and Father have divorced due to Father's substance abuse and addiction. Mother seeks and is granted sole custody of Child. This means that Mother alone has legal authority to decide key issues related to Child's upbringing, and Child will live exclusively with Mother. Father may be entitled to visitation with Child.
Consulting a Family Law Attorney
Child custody laws are constantly changing. It is important to consider consulting a family law attorney for advice. A lawyer can assist you in obtaining the right custody arrangement for you and your child. Child custody laws vary widely by state, and your attorney can help explain your state's rules to you. Most offer free consultations, so your first step should be to contact an experienced family attorney.