Sole custody is an arrangement in which one parent is granted full and legal custody of a child. This is in contrast to joint custody, where both parents retain full parental rights to the child, with one parent granted physical custody and the other granted visitation rights. The parent with sole custody is identified as the custodial parent, while the parent who has waived his or her parental rights is identified as the non-custodial parent. These terms are mainly used to identify which parent is granted physical custody of the child, but may also be used to differentiate between parents with sole custody and parents who do not have any custody rights or privileges. With sole custody, the non-custodial parent may or may not be granted visitation rights, depending on what the court of jurisdiction believes is in the best interests of the child.
While many people view the granting of sole custody as being a situation in which one parent is deemed to be a danger or is otherwise unfit to be actively involved in the rearing of the child, that is not always the case. Divorcing couples may choose to request this type of custody if the non-custodial parent will be living far away from the custodial parent and the child. Should the non-custodial parent have a debilitating illness and is not physically or mentally able to make responsible decisions regarding the nurture and care of the child, the two parents may determine that it is in the best interests of the child for one parent to have sole authority, thus simplifying the process of making sure the child is cared for properly.
The granting of sole custody does not necessarily mean that the non-custodial parent will not be involved in the financial support for the child, or that he or she will not have some type of ongoing interaction with the child. In situations where the non-custodial parent has a demonstrated history of physical or mental abuse, the courts may restrict visitation to situations where an officer of the court is present during the visit, or disallow visitation altogether. While visitation may be restricted or not allowed at all, the non-custodial parent is still likely to be ordered to pay child support.
In situations where there are no barriers to visitation, and the relationship between the two parents is civil, the non-custodial parent may obtain a temporary power of attorney that allows him or her to take actions on behalf of the child during a prolonged period of visitation. For example, a legal document of this type would allow the non-custodial parent to authorize emergency medical care for the child, rather than waiting for the parent with sole custody to be contacted for his or her consent. Non-custodial parents who do not have joint custody would do well to obtain this type of document whenever the child is spending an extended amount of time away from the parent with sole custody, and is in the care of the non-custodial parent.