What Are My Responsibilities if My Wife Has Sole Custody?

By Mary Jane Freeman

At the conclusion of a divorce action, the terms of custody and child support are usually outlined in the final divorce decree. If your wife was granted sole custody, she was assigned specific rights and responsibilities with respect to your children and the care they are to receive. It is important to understand the new role your former spouse will play in your child's life and what is expected of you as the noncustodial parent.

Custody Basics

Custody is determined by state law. Although these laws vary from state to state, all states establish custody and visitation agreements based on the "best interests of the child." This standard takes a variety of factors into account, including the relationship between the child and parents, ability of parents to provide a suitable home for the child, and mental and physical health of both parents. Custody falls into two categories: physical and legal. Physical custody determines which parent the child lives with while legal custody represents the right of a parent to make decisions about the child's upbringing, such as schooling, religion and health care.

Sole Custody & Visitation

When legal and physical custody are awarded to parents, it's common for either or both forms of custody to be shared. Typically, courts award parents joint legal custody, through which the parents share decision-making responsibilities, and one parent sole physical custody, when the child lives with one parent full time. Visitation rights, also known as parenting time, are usually granted to the noncustodial parent when one parent is given sole physical custody. Although it is possible for a court to award sole legal and physical custody to one parent, it's rare; courts usually reserve sole custody for situations in which one parent is deemed unfit. If your former spouse was granted this form of custody, your visitation rights as the noncustodial parent usually will be outlined in the divorce decree.

Divorce is never easy, but we can help. Learn More

Parenting Plan

A parenting plan is a custody agreement between you and your child's custodial parent that explains your parental responsibilities during visitation. Parenting plans are detailed and routinely outline the following: goals for children; regular, vacation and holiday visitation schedules; how child exchanges will be handled, including designated pick-up and drop-off locations and responsibility for transportation costs; procedure for changing visitation dates and making up missed parenting time; responsibility for child's clothing and medication; participation in child's extracurricular activities; how and when parents will share information about the child; and how disputes will be resolved. Basically, the noncustodial parent is charged with providing a proper home for the child during visitation.

Child Support

As your child's noncustodial parent, the court likely ordered you to pay child support in an amount set by state law. If you fall behind in your payments, the state's child support enforcement office may begin collection activity against you, using such tactics as wage garnishment, seizure of income tax refunds, property liens and suspension of driver's, professional and occupational licenses. If your former spouse blocks visitation with your child, you cannot use this as an excuse to stop paying; visitation and child support are considered separate issues under the law. Only the court can deny or restrict your visitation rights and this is only done when the court determines a parent is unfit.

Modification

If there has been a substantial change in circumstances since the original custody order was issued, either parent may return to the court that issued the order and ask for a modification. Circumstances that may warrant modification include a custodial parent's desire to relocate, recent job loss or medical disability, or unfit behavior on the part of either parent that places the child at risk, such as drug use or alcohol abuse. The court is likely to approve the modification if a change in custody or visitation would be in the best interests of the child.

Divorce is never easy, but we can help. Learn More
What Is the Difference Between Custodial Parent & Primary Physical Custody?

References

Resources

Related articles

Laws Governing Child Custody in South Carolina

Divorcing spouses in South Carolina who agree on how to split custody of their child are free to come up with their own parenting plan that suits their needs and the needs of their child. As long as a South Carolina court finds the plan to be in the child’s best interests, the court will adopt the plan as part of the divorce decree. If spouses cannot agree, the court will create a custody plan for them according to the child’s best interests.

How to Determine Who Will Win Child Custody

Child custody laws vary from state to state. Likewise, different jurisdictions have different preferences and guidelines for how to divide custody between divorcing parents. That said, mothers and fathers both have equal rights to obtain custody of their children. Courts will generally not assume that the child will fare better with a particular parent based on that parent’s sex. Likewise, either parent can file a motion for custody, either during a divorce or after a court has entered a custody order.

What Does Sole Custody Mean in Tennessee?

Divorce is never easy, especially when children are involved. Whether you're negotiating custody with your soon-to-be ex or petitioning the court directly, it's important to know the different forms of custody available, the rights and responsibilities that come with each, and the factors a judge considers when awarding custody. If sole custody is your ultimate objective, a Tennessee court will evaluate whether this arrangement is in the best interests of your child.

Get Divorced Online

Related articles

What Does Sole Custody Mean for the Other Parent?

During the divorce process, courts often establish custody orders. If one parent is awarded sole custody, the other ...

NH Laws About Getting Physical Custody of Children

New Hampshire has joined the ranks of a few other states that no longer use the term "custody" to describe the legal ...

How to Legally Change Physical Custody in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania, like all states, uses the "best interests of the child" standard when making custody determinations. The ...

Temporary Visitation Rights

If you are a parent and filing for divorce, you can ask the court for custody and visitation orders in addition to ...

Browse by category
Ready to Begin? GET STARTED