Sole custody is a form of child custody arrangement where one parent, known as the custodial parent, has exclusive physical and legal custody of the child. This means that the child primarily lives with the custodial parent, who also has the authority to make key decisions concerning the child’s upbringing, including education, healthcare, and religious instruction.
The other parent, termed the non-custodial parent, might have visitation rights but does not have a direct say in these major decisions.
How Is Sole Custody Obtained?
Obtaining sole custody often happens in connection with a divorce or legal separation. The process typically involves filing a petition for sole custody with the family court. The court will then evaluate various factors to determine the child’s best interests, which is the standard used in child custody cases.
These factors can include the child’s age, emotional ties between the parent and child, the ability of the parent to provide for the child, and the mental and physical health of all involved parties. If the court determines that it is in the child’s best interest for one parent to have sole custody, the court will issue a custody order to that effect.
Here are some potential scenarios illustrating how these factors might come into play.
Age is often a crucial factor, especially for younger children. For example, if a child is still an infant and breastfeeding, the court might consider it in the best interest of the child to reside primarily with the mother. Similarly, very young children who require a significant amount of attention and care might be placed with the parent who can provide that level of care.
Emotional Ties Between the Parent and Child
The court will consider the emotional relationship between the child and each parent. For instance, if one parent has been largely absent from the child’s life while the other parent has been a consistent presence providing emotional support, the court may determine it’s in the child’s best interest to grant sole custody to the latter parent.
Ability of the Parent to Provide for the Child
If one parent has a stable income, a secure home, and a supportive network of family and friends while the other parent struggles with job instability, financial problems, or lack of a stable home, the court might see the former as being in a better position to provide for the child’s needs.
Mental and Physical Health of All Involved Parties
The court will evaluate the mental and physical health of both parents and the child. For example, if one parent struggles with a severe mental illness or substance abuse that impairs their ability to care for the child, or if one parent is physically unable to keep up with the child due to a health condition, the court may decide it’s in the child’s best interest to live with the healthier parent.
These are just examples, and real-life situations are often more complex. Courts will consider all these factors together, and every case is unique. The overarching principle in all decisions is the child’s best interests.
What If I Have an Issue with the Current Custody Arrangement?
If you have an issue with the current custody arrangement, such as the other parent violating a child custody order, you can take legal action. This might involve going back to court to enforce the order or seeking a modification of the existing custody order.
Violations can include failure to comply with visitation schedules, denial of visitation rights, or moving the child out of state without permission. It’s crucial to document these violations for evidence.
Going Back to Court for Order Modification
If circumstances change significantly after the initial custody order, you might need to seek a modification. This involves filing a formal motion with the same court that issued the original order. This motion should include a detailed explanation of why the modification is necessary, supported by evidence of the changed circumstances.
For example, if the custodial parent has become physically or mentally incapacitated or if they’re moving far away, these are situations where a court might consider changing the custody order.
Examples of Violations
Below, we will go over some examples of violations that might give rise to a court order modification.
Failure to Comply with Visitation Schedules
Suppose the non-custodial parent consistently arrives late for their visitation or frequently cancels visitations. These actions can disrupt the child’s routine and emotional well-being.
Detailed records of these instances, such as text messages or emails about changed plans, can serve as evidence of this violation.
Denial of Visitation Rights
If the custodial parent consistently prevents the non-custodial parent from seeing the child during their scheduled visitation times without a valid reason, this is a violation. For instance, the custodial parent might make excuses, plan activities for the child during the visitation time, or simply refuse to allow the visit. Documented instances of these behaviors could serve as evidence.
Moving the Child Out of State Without Permission
If the custodial parent decides to move out of state with the child without obtaining necessary permission from the court or the non-custodial parent, this is a violation. Evidence might include a change of address notification, school records from another state, or written communication about the move.
Not Returning the Child on Time
If the non-custodial parent consistently fails to return the child on time after visitations, it could disrupt the child’s routine, causing stress and uncertainty. Evidence might include records of late drop-offs, messages exchanged about the tardiness, or even a log book noting the times when the child was returned.
The custodial parent might try to disrupt or entirely block the child’s communication with the non-custodial parent, such as phone calls, video chats, or emails. If this is against the agreed-upon or court-ordered communication guidelines, it can be considered a violation. The non-custodial parent can document missed or blocked calls or messages/emails that went unanswered.
Inappropriate Conduct During Visitation
If either parent engages in conduct during their custody or visitation time that jeopardizes the child’s well-being—such as substance abuse, introducing the child to an unsafe environment, or other inappropriate behavior—this could be considered a violation. Evidence for this might be harder to gather but could include pictures, testimony from witnesses, or, in more severe cases, police reports.
For each of these situations, it’s important to document the violations and consult with a family law attorney. They can guide you on how to appropriately address these violations and whether you should seek enforcement or modification of the existing custody order.
Remember that direct and civil communication is often the best first step, but if violations persist, legal action may be necessary. A lawyer can guide you through the legal process, assist with paperwork, and provide advice on alternatives to sole custody arrangements, like joint custody or visitation rights, if applicable.
Do I Need a Lawyer for Help with Sole Custody Issues?
Yes, dealing with sole custody issues can be complex and emotionally draining. Having an experienced child custody lawyer on your side can help ensure your interests and those of your child are adequately represented. A lawyer can guide you through the legal process, assist with paperwork, and provide advice on alternatives to sole custody arrangements, like joint custody or visitation rights, if applicable.
If you are dealing with custody issues, LegalMatch can help you find the right child custody lawyer for your case. LegalMatch has a broad network of experienced lawyers who can assist you. Don’t wait—get the legal help you need today.