What Is Sole Custody and How Is It Different From Physical Custody?

What Is Sole Custody and How Is It Different From Physical Custody

Battle for custody usually happens in a separation or divorce and a court determines which of the parent, a relative or any other adult gets legal and/or physical responsibility of a child under the age of 18. In the United States, child custody can either be “sole” (only one parent gets custody of the child) or “joint” (both parents get custody).

In a sole custody, one parent is granted exclusive legal and physical custody rights of a child. In most states, however, courts are trying to avoid giving sole custody to a lone parent in an effort to have both parents actively involved in their child’s life. While the court can grant sole physical custody to one parent, the other parent (called the “non-custodial” parent) may be entitled to a visitation schedule and, in some cases, joint legal custody. Sole physical and legal custody of a child is possible, but it is rare and usually only happens when the other parent is found unfit to take care of a child, mainly due to reasons of child abuse, mental instability, domestic violence, or alcohol and drug addictions. Even then, some courts may still grant visitation rights to the non-custodial parent, albeit supervised.

Sole legal custody vs Sole physical custody

In a legal separation or divorce, a custody battle is almost always present. There are two types of custody – legal and physical. There is a stark difference between the two.

  • Sole legal custody: only one parent has a legal right to make key decisions about the child’s wellbeing, such as religious, educational, medical and emotional affairs. While consultation with the non-custodial parent is not required, it is in the discretion of the custodial parent whether he or she will seek their advice
  • Sole physical custody: the child is under supervision and lives with one parent, subject to visitation by the non-custodial parent, except if the court ruled out visitation in order to protect the child’s interests.

Custody of a child can be determined by a local court during divorce proceedings or if a relative, friend or agency questions the capacity of one or both parents to care for the child’s wellbeing. The primary factor that controls the outcome of a custody battle is what is best for the child or children.

Pros and cons of sole custody

Sole custody can have its own advantages and disadvantages for the custodial parent. The following are the pros of having sole custody:

  •  If the non-custodial parent is unfit and abusive, the child is protected and removed from any negative influence.
  •  Deciding on major issues for a child’s wellbeing is often made easier when only one parent is accountable for the choices.
  • There is no longer a need to consult with non-custodial parent about critical decisions, thus reducing the likelihood of arguments.
  • In some instances, having one parent making the decisions leads to better consistency for the child.
  • Having sole physical custody eliminates the challenges of moving from one home to another, giving the child a more stable environment.

At the same time, there are also some cons of having sole custody of the child, including:

  • Having only one parent can have some psychological impact on the child (e.g. feelings of abandonment).
  • With a set visitation schedule, the child’s connections to the non-custodial parent becomes restricted.
  • A huge sum of the child-related expenses will be shouldered solely by the custodial parent.
  • Making life-changing decisions for the child can be daunting for a single parent.

Factors to consider before pursuing sole custody

Having sole custody of a child is a huge responsibility and should not be taken lightly. Before filing for sole custody, take into account the following aspects:

  • If both parents are generally available to get involved with their child’s life;
  • If having sole custody over your child is more beneficial than detrimental;
  • If it is practical for one or both parents to decide for their child;
  • If the primary reason for pursuing sole custody is simply to remove the stress that comes with consulting the other parent; and
  • If having joint custody is harmful to your child or children.

More than anything, it should be the child’s welfare that should be in the minds of the parents.

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