Will Sole Custody Affect Child Support?

By Travis Gray, J.D.

Will Sole Custody Affect Child Support?

By Travis Gray, J.D.

There are a number of factors in a divorce that can affect whether or not the court orders you or your future ex-spouse to make child support payments. One of the most important factors is whether or not the court grants you physical custody of your child in the divorce decree. Because the custodial parent is responsible for the up-front expenses of raising a child, sole custody can have a significant effect on child support payments.

Little girl hugging her father standing next to his suitcase as her mother looks sad in the background

Types of Custody

There are two types of custody decisions in each custody case: legal custody and physical custody. The court may grant both physical and legal custody to one parent (sole custody) or both parents (joint custody). Legal custody involves your rights as a parent, including making decisions about a child's healthcare and education. Physical custody involves the decision on where your child lives.

  • Sole Legal Custody: If you have sole legal custody, the decisions regarding your child are entirely yours to make. Sole legal custody usually accompanies sole physical custody.
  • Joint Legal Custody: If you have joint legal custody, you and your ex-spouse must make parenting decisions together. It is possible for joint legal custody to go hand in hand with either sole or joint physical custody.
  • Sole Physical Custody: If you have sole physical custody, your child lives with you full-time. Whether your ex-spouse has other rights, including visitation, depends on if they have legal custody or not.
  • Joint Physical Custody: If you have joint physical custody, your child splits their time between your home and the home of your ex-spouse. Typically, joint physical custody goes hand in hand with joint legal custody.

The court makes the final decision on custody in your divorce decree. While divorce decrees can be amended, obtaining a favorable result in your divorce case can prevent many problems in the future.

How Custody Affects Child Support Payments

If you have sole physical custody of your child, you incur the day-to-day costs of feeding, clothing, and housing them. It's only fair that the noncustodial parent contributes financially. That's why, in many cases, a divorce decree requires a noncustodial parent to make child support payments to the parent with sole physical custody of the child. This is the case regardless of whether you have sole or joint legal custody.

Child support may or may not be required if you have joint physical custody with your ex-spouse. If your child splits their time evenly between your home and your ex-spouse's, it's possible the court may find that child support isn't necessary. However, that determination is ultimately up to the court. The court may require child support payments when the time is not split evenly or if it is not economically feasible for one parent to pay for the expenses related to raising their child.

Altering Custody or Child Support Agreements

If circumstances in your life or the life of your ex-spouse change, it is possible to have custody agreements and child support orders altered. If you find yourself facing financial hardship, it is likely that the child support you were able to afford previously is no longer feasible. But to have your child support obligations lowered, you need to have the court agree to amend your divorce decree.

It is also possible for the court to alter the custody arrangement set out in your divorce. The court must act in the best interest of your child, and if things change in either parent's life, it is possible the court may change its mind on custody arrangements. The court can grant joint custody in cases where a parent previously had sole custody. In the alternative, the court can award sole custody in a situation where joint custody was ordered initially if it is in the best interest of the child.

When it comes to child support determinations, one of the major factors involves whether or not you have physical or legal custody. The good news is that, in some cases, it is possible to have your support arrangements or even your custody arrangements altered by the court as circumstances change.

This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.