Joint Custody vs Sole Custody

Blue border with “Joint Custody vs Sole Custody” in black lettering and the gold Freed Marcroft LLC divorce and family law attorneys logo in the lower right corner.Lots of confusion exists about the meaning of joint custody versus sole custody.  Today we’ve set out to clear up the similarities and differences.

Please read on for more.

History of Joint and Sole Custody

In the past,  the most common custody award involved an order of sole custody to one of the parents, usually the mother, as long as she was a fit person to have custody.  This approach has been replaced by Connecticut’s statute on joint custody:

There shall be a presumption, affecting the burden of proof, that joint custody is in the best interests of a minor child where the parents have agreed to an award of joint custody or so agree in open court at a hearing for the purpose of determining the custody of the minor child or children of the marriage. If the court declines to enter an order awarding joint custody pursuant to this subsection, the court shall state in its decision the reasons for denial of an award of joint custody.

It also used to be the case that judges did not distinguish between legal custody (decision making) and physical custody (parenting time).

Joint Custody vs Sole Custody

Just as custody can be either joint or sole, it can also refer to legal custody versus physical custody.

Sole Legal and Physical Custody

Sole custody is what it’s called when a court orders custody to only one parent.  There are two types of sole custody: sole legal custody and sole physical custody.  Generally speaking, when someone refers to “sole custody” and doesn’t specify whether it’s legal or physical, it means that both are sole.

Just because one parent has sole physical custody doesn’t mean that the non-custodial parent doesn’t have visitation rights.  And, not having custody of a child is not the same as having your parental rights terminated.  Non-custodial parents still have parental rights and responsibilities.  There are often still child support obligations and visitation, even when the other parent has sole custody.

Although sole custody gives ultimate decision-making power to the parent with sole custody, sole custody also does not necessarily prevent the noncustodial parent’s involvement in all decision-making during visitation.

For example, courts would not usually not require that the custodial parent be consulted on routine minor decisions such as what the child will eat during visitation with the non-custodial parent. In contrast, the noncustodial parent would not likely be entitled to made other decisions that carry outside the visitation. For example, the noncustodial parent likely would not have the authority to enroll the child in a long-term activity or school.

Read: What Does Sole Custody Mean?

Read: Third Party Custody vs Visitation

Joint Legal and Physical Custody

Joint Custody is what it’s called when a court orders custody of a minor child to both parents.  As with sole custody, there are two types of joint custody: legal and physical.

Where parents have joint legal custody, both will typically have the right to participate in making major decisions regarding their child.

Generally speaking, under a joint legal custody arrangement, parents are obligated to consult with one another regarding major decisions affecting the child. Major decisions often involve those related to the child’s health, growth and development, choice of schools, religion, course of study, travel, employment, sports, activities, and significant changes in the child’s social environment.

In addition, although it’s confusing, it’s important to note that “joint physical custody” does not mean 50%/50% parenting time.

Read: What Does Joint Custody Mean?

Read: Is there Child Support When We Have Shared Custody?

Modifying or Changing Joint vs Sole Custody

When the court finalized your divorce or custody action, it issued a final decree.  That decree is a final, enforceable court order.  But sometimes, some of that order doesn’t work for you and your family and there are Post Judgment issues with the parenting plan.

A Motion to Modify can be used to adjust the terms of a parenting plan or custody agreement so that they more accurately reflect your child’s needs as they grow. As always, any modifications to a parenting plan must be in the child’s best interests.

Some examples of reasons a parent might file a Motion to Modify custody or parenting include:

  • Seeking a change from joint custody to sole custody or from sole custody to joint custody
  • Seeking additional parenting time
  • Hoping to relocate
  • Changes to a parent’s work schedule
  • Adjustments to a child’s school or activity schedule

Read: What are the Most Common Post Judgment Motions After a Connecticut Divorce?

Read: What is a Motion for Modification?

Next Steps

For more information about Connecticut divorce and family law, check out our Divorce Information and Facts.

If you have questions or want to learn more about how our team of divorce attorneys can help you with your divorce or Post Judgment issue, please contact us either here or by phone at 860-530-4221.