Defining Child Custody

Child custody is a legal word concerning guardianship that is utilized to illustrate the legal and sensible parent or guardian-child relationship. It includes legal custody, which is the right to make decisions concerning the child, and physical custody, which is the right and obligation to give shelter to, provide, and nurture the child. 

Married parents usually have joint legal and physical custody of their children. Most choices concerning child custody result from proceedings concerning divorce, annulment, separation, adoption, or a parent’s demise. In many states, child custody is decided according to the best-interests-of-the-child criterion. One type of child custody is known as sole custody.

What Exactly is Sole Custody?

Sole custody is a special kind of child custody agreement in which just one parent or individual is given both physical and legal custody of the child. At this point, the parent with custody, known as the custodial parent, is liable for the physical requirements of the child in addition to making legal choices on their behalf. This extremely special kind of child custody agreement is permitted because of the following:

  • The other parent is disabled, in prison, or cannot help in terms of child custody – or has previously abused his or her child or spouse, committed domestic violence, or neglected his or her child.
  • Both parents cannot take responsibility for the child, in which case another party will need to take sole custody like a grandparent or immediate relative.

Family laws regarding sole custody might vary between states. The court will also need to perform a full evaluation of all the issues involved to decide which kind of custody is appropriate for the child.

Types of Sole Custody

Sole Legal

Also known as sole parental responsibility, sole legal custody is when one parent has complete responsibility to make key decisions for the child. Although the other parent does not contribute, he or she frequently has visitation rights and the obligation to pay child support. The opposite of sole legal custody is joint legal custody, where both parents share decision-making regarding the child.

Sole custody is normally granted along with sole physical custody. Sole legal custody is best when one parent is unapproachable or cannot decide on short notice. It is frequently essential in situations when one parent is unstable, abusing drugs or alcohol, abusing the child, neglect, abandonment, and so on. Sole legal custody is turning out to be less commonplace because several state rules establish joint legal custody as the default. It is granted in these states only if joint legal custody would be damaging to the child.

Sole Physical

Sole physical custody is also known as sole residential custody, sole parenting time, and so on. This means that the child resides with the custodial parent. In most cases, noncustodial parents get to visit the child regularly. The opposite of sole physical custody is joint physical custody.

Parents must have a sole custody agreement when:

  • Both parents concur that sole custody is in their child’s best interest.
  • A parent takes extensive trips for work or his or her work schedule makes it hard to have the children reside with him or her.
  • The child requires the main residence for an age-appropriate custody schedule.
  • Parents reside far away from each other and have a long-distance custody schedule.
  • A parent is a substance abuser or is psychologically unhinged.
  • A parent has previously abused or neglected his or her child or departed from the life of his or her child. Supervised visitation might be required in these cases.

How Is Sole Custody Different from Joint Custody?

As mentioned above, in a sole legal custody agreement, the custodial parent is the only one who can make key decisions in support of his or her children. These decisions consist of those that are essential to their rearing—such as what schools they go to, what doctors they visit, and whether they are old enough to get their license when the time comes. 

A court typically requires a persuasive reason to give sole legal custody to one parent. For instance, in Ohio, both parents may be suffering through such a combative divorce that the judge cannot visualize both ever being able to collaborate for their children’s best interest. Thus, the judge will give legal custody to only one parent. Although one parent is granted sole legal custody, a few states like Ohio restrict his or her decisions to those that have no considerable economic influence on his or her former spouse.

However, joint legal custody indicates that both parents must collaborate and come together to rear their children after making their divorce final. The parents check with each other on matters of health, medical treatment, education, religion, and significant events in their child’s life. If the parents disagree on a key decision, depending on their state’s laws and specific custody arrangement, the individual might have to return to court to settle the impasse. In a few states like Massachusetts, both parents have joint legal custody by default after a person files for divorce. This continues until an order or decree is distributed that contradicts it.

How Does a Parent Get Sole Custody of His or Her Child?

The first step when obtaining full custody is to file for it. The best-case scenario is if the individual’s spouse accepts him or her having sole custody. This stops the contest of sole custody, is less costly for everybody, and is also easier than an all-out trial. A person can file for custody if he or she is unmarried, so long as he or she has a child in common. Filing for custody if you have never married the other parent is akin to obtaining full custody in a divorce, except without a marriage. The criteria in situations with or without marriage are similar, so long as the man involved proves that he is the father of his significant other’s child if the parties were unmarried.

How can a person get full custody if joint custody is what many courts desire? An individual must prove specific elements in order to trounce a court’s inclination toward joint custody. He or she can obtain sole legal and/or sole physical custody if he or she can prove the following:

  • Sole custody is in the child’s best interest, and
  • Joint custody is a bad idea since both parents cannot get along well enough to parent a child together.

Most states demand the court to consider the child’s best interest prior to giving sole custody. If sole custody is not in his or her child’s best interest, the individual will possibly have to accept joint custody.

Can a Non-Custodial Parent be Denied Visitation Rights?

A court can refuse or limit visitation if it thinks the child may be in danger because of the visitation. The court typically refuses or limits visitation if, for instance, the noncustodial parent has molested the child, is liable to abduct the child, or is liable to utilize illicit drugs or unnecessary quantities of alcohol while taking care of the child. In addition, there are times when one parent forbids the other visitation rights without the court’s permission. It is illegal to deny visitation to the other parent without the permission of a court, and this can result in legal ramifications.

Common Reasons for a Parent to Deny Visitation

When two parents divorce or separate, the custodial parent sometimes stops the noncustodial parent from utilizing his or her child visitation rights. If a person is a noncustodial parent who has been refused visitation rights that they had beforehand, there are a few usual reasons why he or she was refused visitation rights:

  • The noncustodial parent is not paying child support
  • Disapproving of the other parent’s relationships like a new spouse
  • Abusing drugs or alcohol
  • Imprisonment for child abuse
  • Fear that the child will be abducted
  • Differences in religion
  • Wishes of the child

If a custody order has been executed, refusing visitation is illegal and can have severe legal ramifications for the parent who refuses visitation. In a few jurisdictions, a custodial parent might refuse visitation if it would expose the child to direct physical injury or emotional hurt. However, the custodial parent must specifically proceed prior to refusing visitation like informing the proper authorities. This is only allowed in extraordinary situations.

Is a Child Custody Lawyer Necessary?

Certain regions might have slightly different definitions of sole custody. An individual might need to employ a child custody lawyer in his or her area if he or she has any concerns or legal questions concerning sole custody. A skilled lawyer can assist the person when it comes to duties such as legal research. The individual’s attorney can also represent him or her if he or she needs to appear in a family law court or for other conferences and hearings.


Sole custody is not something to choose lightly. When it comes down to it, it is all about what is in the best interest of the child. If a parent wants sole custody to spite the other parent, then it is not a very good decision. Parents should keep in mind that their children are important to them and must be open to their feelings and opinions. They should listen to them about what type of child custody they should seek. More than likely, the child would prefer to have both parents in his or her life. If so, then the parent should consider joint custody as a viable option. If for some other reason this option is not a good idea, sole custody should be the last resort.