The Significance of Sole Physical Custody (or lack thereof)

Posted on Tuesday, December 4th, 2018 by Marc Beyer and is filed under Child Custody,  Divorce,  Divorce Decree,  Parents.

In any Divorce Decree with minor children, there will be a designation of physical custody. Either Mom or Dad will be granted “sole physical custody” or both parties will be awarded “joint physical custody.”

But what does this mean?

Not as much as you might think.

The words “sole” and “joint” are really just that – words. Along with the physical custody designation there will also be a parenting time schedule. That is what really matters.  The parenting time schedule will address such matters as the holiday schedule, vacation time, and the regular/default schedule. Regardless of the label “sole” or “joint,” the parenting time schedule determines when the kids are with mom and when the kids are with dad. This is what most people mean when the term “custody’ is used.

What this also means, then, is that the parent with sole physical custody does not get to call all the shots. I have had clients tell me that they do not want their spouse to get sole physical custody because they thought that meant that their spouse got to dictate if or when they got to see the children. Again, not true. The parenting time schedule controls, and the parties are to follow that regardless of the custody designation.

Another misconception is that a party with sole physical custody can move out of state with the children. Also not true. If the non-relocating parent does not consent, the relocating parent must bring a motion and receive Court approval before they can move. And then the relocating parent must prove that the proposed move is in the best interests of the children. This can be difficult to prove. Point being, a parent with sole physical custody does not get to automatically move out of state simply because they may have sole physical custody.

Finally, the physical custody designation does not determine child support. People will seek an award of sole physical custody because they think that entitles them to child support. It does not. Again, the parenting time schedule and each parent’s percentage of parenting time determines child support (among other factors).

So, do not get hung up use of the terms “sole” or “joint” when it comes to physical custody. They are not as significant as you might think.

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