Rights of a Sole Custodial Parent

By Heather Frances J.D.

Divorcing parents often fight hardest over child custody, and you may ask the court for sole custody of your child. Child custody laws vary somewhat by state, but courts have flexibility to divide custody in a way that is in the best interests of your child. If this means you receive sole custody, you will have more rights than if you shared custody with your ex-spouse.

Divorcing parents often fight hardest over child custody, and you may ask the court for sole custody of your child. Child custody laws vary somewhat by state, but courts have flexibility to divide custody in a way that is in the best interests of your child. If this means you receive sole custody, you will have more rights than if you shared custody with your ex-spouse.

Legal Vs. Physical Custody

Custody of a child can be divided into legal or physical custody, and a court can award a combination of sole or joint physical custody and sole or joint legal custody in each case. Legal custody is the right to make important decisions about the child. Physical custody addresses which parent has day-to-day responsibilities to care for the child. Some states use terms like “parenting time” to refer to physical custody or visitation.

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Sole Custody

In some states, “sole” custody means that the parent has full legal and physical custody. In other states, a court may split custody and one parent may have sole physical custody while legal custody is shared by both parents, or vice versa. Regardless of the custody arrangement, both parents usually have the right to access the child’s school and medical records.

Sole Legal Custody

A parent with sole legal custody makes the significant decisions about the child’s upbringing. This can include deciding where the child attends school, whether he attends church and even the child’s course of medical treatment. When one parent has sole legal custody, the other parent has no right to interfere with the custodial parent’s decisions.

Sole Physical Custody

If the court awards sole physical custody to one parent, the other parent usually receives some type of visitation rights unless the court determines that it is in the child’s best interest to avoid contact with the noncustodial parent -- as in the case of abuse. The custodial parent may have rights to receive child support from the noncustodial parent to help her support the child, though technically child support is the child’s right. Even if you have sole physical custody of your child, you cannot deny the other parent his visitation rights in violation of the court order. Typically, both parents have the right to have contact with the child when he is with the other parent.

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Rights of Parents With Sole Physical Custody in California

References

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Divorce & Custody Rights

Custody determinations are often a highly contentious and emotional component of the divorce process, so it is important to know your rights as a parent before going into settlement negotiations or the courtroom. As a general rule, both parents have rights to custody of the children after a divorce. How custody is divided may be up to the parents, but if they can't decide, the court will make a determination based on the best interests of the child.

Rights of Divorced Parents Sharing Custody of a Child

While child custody and visitation is dictated by state law, every state awards custody and visitation based on the best interests of the child standard. In other words, parents must show that the visitation and custody that they are requesting represents what is best for the child. States do not automatically award custody to the mother or the father, and sometimes parents share custody of their children.

What Is the Difference Between Child Custody & Parental Rights?

In child custody proceedings, the court assigns the rights and responsibilities for raising a child. The court can allocate custody rights between the parents, but also has the option to assign custody rights to people who are not the parents, such as grandparents. Just being a parent does not assure you of custody time; the court can decide not to give a parent any custody time but still require that parent to fulfill his responsibilities regarding his child, such as financial support. In a divorce, the terms 'child custody' and 'parental rights' are particularly confusing because some courts use them interchangeably.

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