When is Sole Custody Appropriate?

Many different determinations are made during the course of a divorce, one of these being custody of the minor children. The California Family Code does not favor joint custody over sole custody, or vice versa. However, California courts have the discretion to make whatever decision is in the best interest of the children involved.

Custodial Arrangements

In California family law cases, courts have the right to make two different determinations with respect to custody. These are deciding where the child will live for the majority of the time, which is known as physical custody, and deciding who will be making the critical, major decisions for the child, which is known as legal custody. If a parent is granted sole physical custody, he or she has the right to collect child support from the noncustodial parent. This right is there even if the parents share joint legal custody.

In California, sole physical custody includes the right to control the child’s:

  • living situation
  • school enrollment
  • daycare decisions
  • medical appointments
  • holiday and vacation plans

However, a court order granting sole physical custody does not mean that the parent is automatically given sole legal custody, as well, which is the right to make all critical decisions over the child’s life. The order would need to say both sole physical and legal custody for that to be the case. Courts tend to grant joint legal custody, even if one parent has sole physical custody.

Even if one parent is given sole physical custody, the noncustodial parent maintains the right to have communication with the child on a frequent and regular basis, and this communication is normally accomplished through a visitation order. Courts encourage that, even if one parent has sole custody, the child still maintains a relationship with his or her other parent. Parental rights are only lost in very select situations, such as a prolonged and continuous absence of one parent from the child’s life, child abuse, alcoholism or drug dependency.

Sole Physical Custody and Sole Legal Custody

If the court grants one parent sole physical and sole legal custody, this order means that the parent has exclusive rights to physically take care of the child and to legally make all critical decisions regarding the child’s health, safety and welfare. Normally the court will carefully consider the best interests of the child before making such an extreme situation considering the implications this decision has on the other parent.

If one parent has sole physical and sole legal custody, this means that he or she does not need to consult the other parent regarding major decisions over the child’s life and can make decisions without the other parent’s approval. If the court believes that the noncustodial parent does not have the ability to properly care for the child or the ability to make stable and intelligent decisions regarding the child’s well-being, sole physical and sole legal custody may be the best decision considering the situation.

Additionally, if drug use or abuse is a factor, courts will grant sole physical and legal custody, as well as if one parent has not been a permanent and stable part of the child’s life for some time. The court may not view that parent as appropriate for making caregiving decisions for the child.

Sole Physical Custody with Shared Legal Custody

The court also has the discretion to grant sole physical custody with shared legal custody, which means that one parent has the right to physically care for the child but must consult with and seek the other parent’s approval regarding major decisions involving the child, including financial, legal, educational and religious decisions. If parties are able to get along for the most part, at least when it comes to making these major decisions regarding the child, the court will consider shared legal custody the best option for the family.

Sole Physical Custody and Child Visitation Rights

While with sole physical custody, the child lives with one of the parents all of the time, the other parent may still have rights to see his or her child. The parent with sole physical custody has the right to decide what the child’s daily routine is and can travel both in and out of California with his or her child, without consulting the other parent. However, that parent must ensure that he or she is following the court order regarding visitation with the noncustodial parent, which is normally unsupervised and as frequent as the parties can agree and believe is appropriate.

Supervised visitation is only appropriate under extreme situations involving abuse or abandonment, and if the court believes it is in the best interests of the child, the court may even suspend or order no visitation until the court rules otherwise. Above all, the court makes these decisions with the child’s best interests in mind.

Contact The Voss Law Office Today!

If you are considering filing for divorce and have questions regarding custody, contact us today to discuss the best options for your case. Consultations are always free. Call us today at 323-333-4481.