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Child Custody
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What Rights Do I Have if I Have Sole Custody?

Sole custody rights depend on whether you have been granted complete legal child custody as well as physical custody. In many cases, custody rights may only include physical custody, while the other parent has visitation and joint legal custody rights. Joint legal custody means that both parents share in the major decisions about the child’s education, medical care, religious upbringing, and other significant issues pertaining to the child’s well-being. Sole child custody privileges can be granted to one party if the other parent has exhibited certain behavior that may indicate that parent is unfit to share custody, such as:

  • History of violent behavior
  • Placed the child in a dangerous situation
  • History of drug or alcohol abuse
  • Evidence of inappropriate contact with minors
  • Mental instability

Sole Physical and Legal Custody

There is a legal presumption or policy that both parents are entitled to joint custody, even if one parent remains the primary caretaker. If you can demonstrate circumstances that show the other parent is unfit, the court will likely determine it is in the best interest of the child to deny custodial rights to the other parent. But even in these situations, many courts will grant limited visitation rights. Supervised visits will be ordered if there is concern about the child’s well-being or a suspicion of child abuse. The custodial parent will not be able to dictate visitation rights because the court sets out a visitation schedule when the parents cannot work out a mutual arrangement. Joint legal custody is preferred by the courts unless you can demonstrate that the other parent is unfit to participate in making important life decisions for the child or is so unreasonable that you are unable to cooperate in the child's best interest.

Other Sole Custody Considerations

The obvious advantage to having complete sole legal custody of your child is that you do not have to consult with the other parent about important decisions like:

  • Where the child will go to school
  • What religion the child will be raised in
  • Medical decisions regarding the child

If the court determines that the other parent is unfit, visitation rights will usually be denied. The situation can change, however, if that parent participates in and successfully completes drug or alcohol rehabilitation or other appropriate treatment programs. In such cases, the court has the power to modify your sole custody rights to allow limited or supervised visitations because having two parents is generally considered best for the child unless contact with that parent would be detrimental.

Generally, your rights regarding custody depend on whether you have complete physical and legal custody or if the other parent retains at least some visitation rights or joint legal custody rights. Since each situation is different, consulting an attorney is essential to determine what rights are available to you in your particular circumstances.