If I’m Named “Custodial Parent” Do I have Sole Custody?

“I had the state represent me in a child support case. Now it’s over. I am named the custodial parent, but does that mean I have sole custody? Should I hire a lawyer to petition for sole custody if I don’t have it right now?”

This question was recently posted on an attorney question board. The writer is a mother looking for clarification on an issue we see at the firm all the time. Parents are always interested in titles, and with that, always wants to know exactly what type of custody they have.

Of course it’s important to know the difference between joint custody and sole custody so that you know what your legal obligations are, but I find that parents are much too concerned about the title they have. Parents should be more concerned with what is in their parenting responsibilities agreement, instead of what title they have in the law. Typically, sole custody means that you will be making all the decisions regarding your child. You’ll decide what school the child attends, what doctor the child sees, and what religion the child will attend. In a joint custody arrangement, you’ll share these decisions with the other parent.

To answer this parent’s question though, if he/she is getting the child support, then presumably that person is the custodial parent. If there has been no designation by the court that the parents are joint parents, then its likely the custodial parent also has sole custody. Does this parent need an attorney to petition for custody though? It’s doubtful.

The State’s Attorneys are free to any person who seeks their services. But they are limited as to what types of cases they take. Their role is to get child support for the custodial parent, but that is but one issue that parents have. What about parenting time? Who has the child on a specific holiday, or for vacations? The State’s Attorney is not going to help the custodial parent with that, so having a court order that details that information is beneficial, whether you are the custodial parent or not.

When you hire an attorney, you will want more then just a determination on what type of custody you want. Think less about the title you are seeking, and more about what you want your custody judgment to say. Each judgment is personal and reflects your special needs, so determine what they are. Stop thinking about what your friend, your neighbor, and your associate at work has in their custody judgment. Think about what you need, so you specifically tailor your agreement to fit you. For instance, are you attending night school on Tuesday nights? Do you need the other parent to step up and spend time with the child while you do that? That would be something beneficial to you, and when you approach the other parent to spend time with their child at that time, its likely to be a welcome conversation. Most non-custodial parents seek more time with their children, and this type of clause in your parenting agreement achieves everyone’s goals. Think long and hard about what you are looking for, and then by all means, contact an attorney to clarify your custodial rights. But expand the judgment to include items that will give both parents what they need, and its likely going to benefit your child. After all, its supposed to be about what is the in the child’s best interests.

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