Sole custody is one of the most misunderstood custody arrangements (partly because it is less common than joint custody). Many clients misuse the term when they come to speak to us for the first time.
Whether you’re the one seeking sole custody or your spouse is, it’s important to understand what that term means and what is involved in establishing it.
What does sole custody mean?
To understand sole custody, you have to understand the different parental rights that exist within any given custody arrangement.
The first term you need to know is “primary conservator.” This status goes to the parent the child lives with the majority of the time. You can be the primary conservator without having sole custody, because you can still be “primary” even if your ex-spouse has custody some of the time. In fact, primary conservatorship is what most people mean when they refer to sole custody.
The second is “legal custody.” This is the right to make decisions for the child, including educational, religious, and medical decisions. Legal custody does not touch on where the child lives or when the child spends time with either parent. It is very rare for a parent to receive sole legal custody.
The third term is parenting time or visitation. That is time the child spends with either parent. A parent with sole custody may still need to grant the other parent visitation time.
“Sole custody” typically means you have both primary conservatorship status over your child and that you are the only one with the legal right to make decisions for your child. It may also mean the other parent has visitation time, but must have that time supervised by an approved third party in order to keep the child safe.
When should you seek sole custody?
Pursuing sole custody takes a lot of time, resources, and evidence. It only makes sense to do so when you can prove the other parent has abused or neglected the child, or can prove the other parent has a substance-abuse problem, or can prove the other parent has a severe and untreated mental illness that threatens the life and wellbeing of your child. You also may be able to seek sole custody if the other parent has abandoned the marriage, or if the other parent is incarcerated.
If none of the above is an issue, you can and perhaps should focus on becoming the primary conservator (if that is what you want to do), and you do that mainly by demonstrating your involvement in your child’s life. Even then, you should keep in mind that courts are going to want to keep the other parent’s time as close to 50% is as physically feasible for your family.
How does sole custody impact child support and parenting time?
If the other parent has less than 40% time with the child then he or she most likely will pay the full child support amount. If the other parent has more than 40% time then the child support amount typically would be prorated: the courts take what you’d pay and what the other parent would pay, and then one parent pays the other the difference.
Resist the urge to accuse the other parent of wanting more time because of child support issues. It’s counterproductive, and that money will go to the child one way or the other. It’s better to focus on creating a schedule that’s feasible for both parents.
Need to explore sole custody?
As we mentioned, there are good, legitimate instances in which seeking sole custody makes sense. If you’re facing one of those scenarios you will need help making your case before the court.
Contact Evans Family Law Group today to get started.