Will Sole Custody Affect Child Support?

By Victoria McGrath

Father and son reading book

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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.

Sole Physical Custody and Child Support Obligations

A court often awards sole physical custody to one parent so the child can stay in one household most of the time and attend the local school. The custodial parent physically takes care of the child a majority of the time and the non-custodial parent generally has scheduled visitation. Because the custodial parent must provide daily meals, transportation and housing a majority of the time, the non-custodial parent must share in those expenses. The non-custodial parent pays child support to the custodial parent, on behalf of the child.

Joint Legal Custody and Sole Physical Custody

A non-custodial parent can share joint legal custody, but that has no effect on the amount of child support to be paid. Joint legal custody means that both parents make important decisions for the child in areas such as education, religion and health care. For example, under joint legal custody, parents decide the best type of education for their child. However, under sole physical custody, the custodial parent might need the child to attend the school closest to her work. The court can resolve child custody issues under dispute.

Child Visitation Rights for Non-Custodial Parents

Non-custodial parents generally have child visitation rights that include regular communication with the child and overnight visits at the non-custodial parent's residence. Most states calculate the amount of child support paid by the non-custodial parent to the custodial parent based on the amount of time each parent spends with the child. For example, if a non-custodial parent takes care of the child four nights a month, the custodial parent provides care at least 26 days a month. Therefore, the non-custodial parent must split the cost of the child's 26 days with the custodial parent. Each state calculates the minimum amount of child support due based on a formula set by state law.

Change from Sole Physical Custody to Joint Physical Custody

A non-custodial parent can ask the court to modify their child custody order due to changed circumstances; if approved, their physical custody arrangement may be changed from sole to joint. Some states require that a child spend a minimum number of nights with each parent in joint physical custody arrangements. If the child lives with each parent 50 percent of the time, each parent pays an equal share of the child's living expenses. As a result, it is possible that neither parent will be ordered to pay child support to the other.