Sole Custody

If you're 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. 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.

This article provides an overview of sole custody and explains how it can apply in the context of a child custody dispute.

What is Sole Custody?

A parent with sole physical and legal custody has exclusive 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 these 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

Even if you have sole custody, there are important distinctions between legal custody and physical custody -- explained below -- as you could have sole physical custody of a child, but joint legal custody which you share with the other parent.

  • 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.

Benefit of Sole Custody

The benefit of sole physical and legal custody is that the child lives with you and you don't need to consult with the other parent to make important decisions about the child's life, such as educational, medical and religious choices. Being granted sole custody does not impact the other parent's right to visitation.

Sole Custody and Relocating

Having sole custody doesn't necessarily mean that you get to relocate without the court's permission. If the other parent has any visitation rights, relocation jeopardizes his/her rights and therefore relocation is an issue that has to be addressed by the court.

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.

Questions About Sole Custody for Your Child? A Family Law Attorney Can Help

If you’re confronting a child custody matter, it’s important to consider meeting with a family law attorney for advice. A lawyer can assist you in obtaining the right custody arrangement for you and your child, whether it's sole custody or some other arrangement. Child custody laws vary widely by state, and your attorney can help explain your state's laws to you. Get help by contacting a local child custody attorney today.

Next Steps

Contact a qualified child custody attorney to make sure your rights are protected.

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