What Does Sole Custody Mean for the Other Parent?

By Mary Jane Freeman

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During the divorce process, courts often establish custody orders. If one parent is awarded sole custody, the other parent's rights and responsibilities are contingent on what type of sole custody she received.

Types of Custody

Courts award parents legal and physical custody. Physical custody is the parental home where the child resides. Legal custody is the authority to make decisions about the child's upbringing, from religion to school enrollment. Either custody type may be sole or joint. For example, courts often award both parents legal custody, which means they share decision-making responsibility, while one has physical custody. However, in some states, like New Hampshire, sole custody means a parent has both legal and physical custody, also known as full custody.

Effect of Sole Custody

If a parent is awarded sole legal custody, this typically means the other spouse does not have any decision-making authority. In other words, he has no say in such things as where the child goes to school or what religion he practices. If sole physical custody is awarded to one parent, also known as primary physical or residential custody, the child only lives with that parent. In this scenario, the other parent is typically awarded visitation and must pay child support. If a parent is awarded sole custody in a jurisdiction where this represents both legal and physical custody, that parent provides the child's only home and makes all decisions. The other parent usually has visitation rights and pays child support, but makes no decisions concerning the child's upbringing.