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Sole Custody-Defined

Dena Standley | November 28, 2022

Dena Standley
Legal Expert, Paralegal
Dena Standley, BA

Dena Standley is a seasoned paralegal with more than 20 years of experience in legal research and writing, having received a certification as a Legal Assistant/Paralegal from Southern Technical College.

Edited by Hannah Locklear

Hannah Locklear
Editor at SoloSuit
Hannah Locklear, BA

Hannah Locklear is SoloSuit’s Marketing and Impact Manager. With an educational background in Linguistics, Spanish, and International Development from Brigham Young University, Hannah has also worked as a legal support specialist for several years.

Child custody can be messy... Here's everything you should know about sole custody.

Summary: If a couple cannot agree on custody, they will probably seek the intervention of a court to determine their rights and responsibilities. A court may sometimes decide that one parent has sole custody of a child because allowing the other access to the child will be detrimental. Below is SoloSuit's guide on everything you should know about sole custody.

Child custody has two main components—legal and physical possession. Physical possession of a child is when a parent has physical control of the child. In comparison, legal rights mean deciding your child's health, education, religion, etc.

Courts are reluctant to give a single parent sole custody unless they believe there is an important reason. If you are involved in a custody battle, you may feel overwhelmed. SoloSuit is here to help. Let's explore sole custody below.

What is sole custody?

"Sole custody" means one parent has exclusive legal and physical possession custody of their child. The custodial parent determines where the child lives 24/7. Furthermore, the sole custody parent will have sole decision-making authority over the child.

A court can grant visitation rights to one parent if the other parent has sole custody, but such requests may be denied depending on the circumstances. A court awards sole custody to one parent only if the court finds the other parent unfit and the child will not benefit from visitation. Sole custody can also be granted if one parent is, by choice or agreement, absent from the child’s life.

A parent with sole custody of a child is responsible for all critical decisions regarding the child, including:

  • Schooling
  • Religion
  • Medical care

If a parent wishes to move the child without the other parent's approval, they have the right to do so. But a custodial parent with sole custody can't renounce the non-custody parent's visitation rights.

Depending on the state, the non-custodial parent has visitation rights with the child and pays support to the custodial parent. Unfortunately, they have no power to decide about the child's upbringing.

Example: Jane and Patrick have a son together. They were never married, and Patrick made it clear from the beginning that he was not interested in parenting. Their relationship ended shortly after Jane discovered she was pregnant. Once the child was born, Patrick and Jane agreed that he would pay a lower rate of child support than the court would allow, and in exchange, Jane would retain sole custody of the child. Patrick sees the child occasionally but does not play an active role in parenting.

Why is sole custody granted?

Your primary motivation for seeking sole custody is to keep your child safe from physical harm, especially if the other parent has a bad history with the children.

Sole custody can be granted for a variety of reasons, including:

  • Alcoholism or drug abuse
  • Neglect or physical abuse
  • Psychiatric disorders
  • Financial problems
  • Instability in the home
  • Mutual agreement

The petition you submit to the court will explain the reasons for your request for sole custody. In a petition, you ask the court to make a legal decision on your behalf. But the court requires you to prove your reasons. Upon receiving your petition, your spouse can contest it.

What does the court consider in sole custody cases?

When granting sole custody, a judge considers a child's well-being and best interests as the primary factors. Make sure you also list the good things the other parent does while you are trying to get custody of your children. The primary concern should be what is best for your children, not for you or your partner. Lies and falsifications will end up costing you the case at trial.

Although sole custody is an option, states are increasingly favoring arrangements that increase both parents' involvement in their children's lives. In most cases, joint legal custody is awarded even when sole physical custody is awarded to one parent.

When both parents are deemed equally fit but merely want to avoid communicating with one another, the court will generally reject a request for sole custody. In this case, the parents must devise ways to communicate effectively.

Can I reverse sole custody?

For a parent to regain custody, they must prove to the court that the behavior that led to the loss of custody no longer threatens the child's safety. It is the parent's burden to prove their legal eligibility to modify child custody, even if they have good reasons to do so.

Parents can take these steps to demonstrate they're doing what's best for their children:

  • Completing in-patient rehab successfully
  • Attend therapy regularly
  • Take a parenting or anger management class

In all 50 states, the court is less likely to grant sole legal and physical custody to one parent unless it is in the child's best interests.

In any case, you are best off reaching an agreement with the other parent to obtain full child custody without a trial. Include a clause in your custody agreement if you decide alone that sole custody is best for your child. Describe how you'll support your child's relationship with the non-custodial parent, including any decisions they may be able to make for your child.

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