What Does Sole Custody Mean?
There is a lot of “legalese” in divorce and family law, but many of the “must know” legal terms fall into the child custody and visitation category. It’s no wonder that a common question our divorce attorneys are asked is: “What does sole custody mean?”
Read on to learn more.
Sole Custody Definition
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.
An award of sole custody in the favor of one parent is not supposed to cut the other parent entirely out of the child’s life. Just because a parent has sole physical custody doesn’t mean that the other parent doesn’t have visitation rights. Even if your ex has sole physical custody of your child, you still have parental rights. For example, there are often still child support obligations and visitation rights, even when the other parent has sole custody. In other words, not having custody of a child is not the same as having your parental rights terminated.
Legal and Physical Custody
There are two types of custody: legal and physical.
- Legal custody: refers to a parent’s right to make important decisions about a child’s upbringing, such as the medical care they receive, where they go to school, and what religious faith they are brought up in.
- Physical custody: addresses where a child will live on a regular basis.
What’s the Opposite of Sole Custody?
The opposite of sole custody is joint custody.
Sole Custody vs Termination of Parental Rights
Not having custody of a child is not the same as terminating parental rights. For example, in addition to possible visitation, sole custody also does not necessarily prevent the noncustodial parent’s involvement in all decision-making. However, it does give the ultimate decision-making power to the parent with sole custody.
Nevertheless, the noncustodial parent generally retains the right access to the academic, medical, hospital or other health records of the child unless the court determines otherwise.
Noncustodial Parent Decisionmaking During Visitation
Given the fact that a sole custodial parent has the ultimate legal authority for decision-making, what is the noncustodial parent’s authority during visitation?
In general, courts try to view this practically. It would usually be unreasonable to require that the custodial parent should be consulted as to routine minor decisions during visitation such as what the child will eat. However, 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.
Third Party Custody
In Connecticut, there is an alternative to sole custody and joint custody called third party custody. Third party custody is when the court awards custody to someone other than a parent. When it comes to a custody dispute between a parent and a nonparent, there’s a presumption that it is in the child’s best interest to be in that parent’s custody. The non-parent may rebut the presumption in favor of the parent by showing that it would be detrimental to the child.
Modifying or Changing Custody
When the court finalized your divorce, it issued a divorce decree. That divorce 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