What Does "Sole Custody With the Final Say" Mean?

By Victoria McGrath

Family law judges issue court orders over child custody of minor children during legal proceedings, including legal separation and divorce. A court order for "sole custody with the final say," issued to one parent or legal guardian, means that only that one parent or guardian maintains legal custody over the child. In other words, one parent possesses final decision making authority on issues involving the minor child. In some cases, sole custody with the final say may refer only to the legal custody of the child and not to physical custody. In this case, the other parent may still maintain shared physical custody or at least visitation rights.

Sole Custody and Shared Custody

A court often orders sole custody to one parent or shared custody to both parents. Sole custody may refer to legal custody, physical custody or both. Legal custody allows a parent to make all legal decisions for the child. Major legal decisions may involve financial, medical, educational and religious matters. Physical custody refers to where the child lives. It allows a parent to physically take care of the child, arrange child care, plan educational activities, change residences and travel abroad. The court may order sole legal custody with shared physical custody, joint legal custody with sole physical custody or make other custody arrangements.

Legal Custody and Physical Custody

If a court orders sole custody and final say without distinguishing legal or physical custody, the court order may refer to both legal and physical custody. The statement must be viewed within the context of the entire court document. If the court order does not outline any type of shared physical or joint legal custody, the court may not intend to award any form of custody to the other parent. The court order may include reasons why sole custody with the final say has been awarded to one parent or why custody has been denied to the other parent.

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Sole Custody and Final Say

The parent with sole custody and the final say may potentially make both legal and physical decisions regarding the minor child's health and welfare without consulting the other parent. A court order for sole custody with the final say can be temporary or permanent. If an absent or abusive parent abandons all parental responsibilities, that parent could lose all custodial rights, including legal and physical custody permanently. However, if the negligent parent completes court-ordered anger management classes, enters a treatment plan or catches up on child support payments, the temporary court order could change based on those conditions. Generally, child custody orders may be appealed or amended within a legal time limit, unless the court order is final. Court rules vary state to state.

Non-Custodial Parent's Rights

A parent that loses all custodial rights may be referred to as a non-custodial parent. A non-custodial parent does not possess primary custody of the minor child. However, the non-custodial parent still maintains parental rights, in most cases. Even without physical and legal custody, a parent generally has a right to reasonable visitation and frequent contact with the child. Although the parent with sole custody and the final say has authority to make all final decisions regarding the child, she may still need to keep in contact with the non-custodial parent.

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Rights of Parents With Sole Physical Custody in California


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Can I Have Joint Custody When the Mother Has Primary Physical Custody?

Effectively dividing parenting responsibilities between two parents who live apart is no easy task. From the parent's perspective, understanding how the court differentiates between legal custody and physical custody can be helpful, particularly in cases where a judge may award sole physical custody to one parent, but shared legal custody to both parents. It is important to note that while each state makes a distinction between physical and legal custody, the applicable laws vary from state to state.

Pros & Cons to Gaining Sole Custody in Rhode Island

In Rhode Island, sole custody may refer to either physical or legal custody. Sole legal custody grants the custodian decision-making authority over the child, even if the other parent shares physical custody or has substantial visitation. In sole physical custody arrangements, one parent's home is the primary place of residence for the child, and the other parent receives limited or supervised visitation. Rhode Island law promotes the maintenance of family unity, so sole custody rarely means that the noncustodial parent has no visitation. However, in extreme cases of neglect, abuse or addiction, a judge may remove the noncustodial parent's visitation rights.

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