Custody & Visitation Law

Sole Custody

The term “sole custody” can mean a few different things. In fact, there could be two types of sole custody: sole legal custody and sole physical custody.

In today’s world, both of these are becoming more rare but, to have sole physical custody ordered by a family court is usually very rare. To learn more about your specific state’s child custody laws and if you could get sole legal custody or sole physical custody of your child, you should contact a family law attorney in your area for assistance.

Legal custody is more about which parent, or both parents, have decision-making “power” and are able to make major decisions for their child. These major decisions typically include:

  • Where a child lives
  • Where the child goes to school
  • What extracurricular activities the child will participate in
  • What medical care will the child receive and which doctors will it go to
  • What church will the child attend

In a sole legal custody — or full custody — situation, either the parents agree or the family court orders that one parent be the sole legal custodian and they have sole custody.

This “sole custodian” will be responsible for making all of these major decisions for their child. The sole custodian can decide where the child lives. This can even mean that the parent with sole legal custody can move and relocate their child without prior approval from the non-custodial parent.

The sole legal custodian can decide if their child goes to public or private school, and they also decide what medical care, including mental health care the child receives, if any. This includes decision-making power on vaccinations.

Non-Custodial Parental Rights

The non-custodial parent is not without parental rights. They still have the right to be kept informed on all of these important decisions. The custodial parent bears the burden of ensuring the non-custodial parent is aware of all of these important decisions.

The custodial parent should always make sure the non-custodial parent knows where the child lives; knows who the child’s medical providers are and provide the name, address, and phone number of each provider; and when the child has a medical or dental appointment.

If there’s a medical emergency, the custodial parent should make the non-custodial parent aware of the emergency as soon as practically possible. The custodial parent should also make sure the non-custodial parent knows where the child attends school, who the child’s teachers are, and provide grades and other reports. Most school systems have online parent portals, and the non-custodial parent should have access to that portal as well. In fact, federal law — the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) — requires school systems to make the child’s school records available to a legal parent.

A family court can always issue orders relieving the custodial parent of any or all of these responsibilities to keep a non-custodial parent informed. This may happen when the non-custodial parent has a history of child abuse or if there is a risk of the non-custodial parent kidnapping the child from school or a doctor’s office.

Sole Physical Custody

This child custody arrangement is very rare. This parenting time arrangement is where one parent is solely responsible for the physical care of the child. The other parent will not have any visitation rights with the child in a sole physical custody parenting plan.

This situation usually arises if there is a history of child abuse and the abusive parent has not taken steps to rehabilitate and demonstrate they can meet the child’s needs in a safe and appropriate way. It may also happen when one parent has a serious substance abuse issue that they refuse to seek treatment for and cannot safely parent and meet the child’s needs.

It is far more common, even if there is child abuse or substance abuse concerns for a parent to still have some form of visitation. This may be in the form supervised visitation. The supervisor could be a grandparent, a mutual friend of the parents, or another neutral third party. Some cities may have supervised visitation centers available for these types of physical child custody arrangements.

Get an Attorney’s Help for Child Custody

A good custody order from family court, whether that is done by agreement or after a hearing, should consider the best interest of the child and put together a detailed parenting plan that outlines both legal custody and physical custody of the child, spelling out how much actual time each parent has for physical custody of their child. To protect your rights as a parent and your child’s best interests, talk to a family law attorney with experience handling custody matters.

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