After a breakup, one of the most hotly contested issues is custody of children. It can be difficult co-parenting, especially if your ex is petty and vindictive, so understandably many people want to receive sole custody of their kids.
A little known fact is that sole custody is often two types of exclusive custody:
- Sole physical custody
- Sole legal custody
Sole physical custody means that the child resides entirely with one parent instead of moving between homes. This type of sole custody may still include visitation rights and even weekend sleepovers with the other parent, but there is no need to negotiate holidays or which week you have the child.
Sole legal custody means that you can make big decisions without consulting your ex. This refers to medical, education, and legal decision rather than co-parenting decisions about discipline or what sport your kid can play. The court only looks at the big picture stuff when it comes to sole legal custody.
What Does Sole Custody Mean?
Sole custody means that the parent with sole custody is recognized as the primary parent in the eyes of the law. The parent without sole custody may still have visitation rights and will not have to forfeit their parental rights, but they play a much smaller part in the raising of the child.
In custody disputes, the court will act in the best interest of the child. They will try and preserve the relationship between the child and both parents, so sole custody is only granted in cases where it is in the child’s best interest. Generally, sole custody is only awarded if one parent poses a risk to the child, like if the court believes that parent is abusing their child or is a drug addict. If that is the reason that sole custody is granted, then all visitation will be supervised to protect the child.
In some situations, sole custody is granted because of convenience. If one parent moves out of state, it may not be reasonable to split physical custody, and the custodial parent may need to make decisions quickly, without waiting for a response from the other parent. Sole custody may also be granted if one parent shows little interest in raising the child or is purposefully causing issues that affect the wellbeing of the child. In these situations, in order to seek sole custody, the custodial parent will have to show proof of child abandonment, multiple missed visitations, and malicious behavior from their co-parent.
Does Sole Custody Cancel Visitation Rights?
No, even if one parent has sole custody, the other parent still has visitation rights. The parent with sole custody cannot prevent the other parent from seeing their child altogether. If the non-custodial parent is deemed unfit to take care of the child, then the court will mandate supervised visits. The supervisor is there to ensure the child is safe while they visit with their parent. In extreme cases where the parent with sole custody believes that even supervised visits are harmful to the child, they can petition the court to terminate the other parent’s parental rights.
What Are the Reasons For Sole Custody?
The court is unlikely to grant sole custody for insignificant reasons. All custodial decisions are made with the best interests of the child in mind and the court will try to preserve the child’s relationship with both parents. They will grant sole custody if they believe one parent poses a risk to the child’s wellbeing due to:
- Child neglect
- Mental instability
- Child abuse or domestic violence towards the other parent or the child
- Substance abuse
- Child abandonment
A sole custody arrangement for any of these reasons may be temporary, and the other parent can petition to get the sole custody decision changed at any point. In order to change the arrangement, the court would have to see proof that the parent has made an effort to change and would not be a danger to the child.
In some cases, the court may grant sole custody to a parent if one parent moves to another state or country. The child needs stability and needs to stay in one location in order to attend school, so it is impractical for there to be shared custody arrangements if the parents live too far from each other. The sole custody decision can be appealed if the parent moves back into the local area.