What Does Sole Custody Mean for the Other Parent?

By Mary Jane Freeman

During the divorce process, courts often establish custody orders. If one parent is awarded sole custody, the other parent's rights and responsibilities are contingent on what type of sole custody she received.

Types of Custody

Courts award parents legal and physical custody. Physical custody is the parental home where the child resides. Legal custody is the authority to make decisions about the child's upbringing, from religion to school enrollment. Either custody type may be sole or joint. For example, courts often award both parents legal custody, which means they share decision-making responsibility, while one has physical custody. However, in some states, like New Hampshire, sole custody means a parent has both legal and physical custody, also known as full custody.

Effect of Sole Custody

If a parent is awarded sole legal custody, this typically means the other spouse does not have any decision-making authority. In other words, he has no say in such things as where the child goes to school or what religion he practices. If sole physical custody is awarded to one parent, also known as primary physical or residential custody, the child only lives with that parent. In this scenario, the other parent is typically awarded visitation and must pay child support. If a parent is awarded sole custody in a jurisdiction where this represents both legal and physical custody, that parent provides the child's only home and makes all decisions. The other parent usually has visitation rights and pays child support, but makes no decisions concerning the child's upbringing.

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Divorce is never easy, but we can help. Learn More
Rights of a Sole Custodial Parent


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What Does Full Custody Mean?

The definition of full custody depends to some extent on where you live and your state's legal jargon. It may mean that you'll have both legal and physical custody. But in some states, it means that you have either sole legal or sole physical custody. If you're not sure what you want to ask the court for as part of your divorce, consult with a local lawyer to make sure you get the terms right for your jurisdiction.

Will Sole Custody Affect Child Support?

Courts can order sole legal custody, sole physical custody, joint legal custody and joint physical custody. Sole custody directly affects the amount of child support paid by the non-custodial parent. The parent with sole physical custody is the custodial parent and the parent without physical custody is the non-custodial parent. The non-custodial parent typically pays child support to the custodial parent to cover the child's living expenses.

North Carolina Laws on Primary Custody and Average Child Support

While a divorce is a momentous change in the life of both parents and their children, North Carolina courts attempt to maintain some continuity when awarding child support. Ideally, a child support award provides children with the same support and lifestyle they had before their parents separated. With this in mind, courts will consider the income of each parent as well as which parent has primary custody of the children. The support payment is based not only on the ability of each parent to pay support, but also the needs of the children.

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