Because every state makes up their own rules and definitions for legal terms, I put together this quick state-by-state guide to help you easily understand what sole custody means in each U.S. state. Most states would rather parents have joint custody, but there are a few that still go by the rules of the primary parent has sole decision-making authority while the other simply has visitation rights.

In my case, with my first two divorces, those husbands got to have visitation of their children. But since my third husband was a toxic narcissist, and far more unhealthy than the first two, I presented my case in court and was awarded sole custody of my last two children.

Alabama: Sole physical custody is when one parent has exclusive physical custody while the other parent is given visitation. Under child custody laws in Alabama, the court has the final decision in child custody cases and may award joint custody as deemed to be appropriate.

Alaska: In Alaska just because a parent receives sole custody it does not mean that the non-custodial parent can not overcome the advantage and obtain custody.

Arizona: In 2013 Arizona changed their custody language and no longer use the word custody. Sole custody according to child custody laws in Arizona, now referred to as sole legal decision making, means that one person has sole legal custody of the child. This one person is responsible for making the major decisions regarding the child’s care.

Arkansas: When parents in Arkansas decide to end their marriage, either joint custody or sole custody may be awarded. According to the American Bar Association, in sole custody arrangements, one parent takes care of his or her children the majority of the time and makes major decisions about them.

California: The term full custody in California is synonymous with the term sole custody. Sole or full custody in California does not mean that one parent has no visitation with the children. It simply means that visitation by the other parent is not frequent and regular enough to justify a joint physical custody label.

Colorado: A parent, for instance, may be awarded both sole physical and legal custody rights. In another family, a parent may be awarded sole legal custody rights but may need to share physical custody with the other parent. While it can be difficult to obtain sole custody in any state, it is particularly difficult inColorado.

Connecticut: Although Connecticut courts generally prefer joint legal custody arrangements, a court will order sole legal custody if it is deemed to be in the child’s best interests. Sole physical custody will allow for the child to live solely with one parent, while the non-custodial parent may have adequate visitation rights.

Deleware: In Deleware, both parents have a right to information about the child’s education, school activities, medical care, religious upbringing, and legal affairs even when one parent retains sole legal custody. The parent with sole legal custody must furnish this information and inform the non-custodial parent of “significant events” in which the child is participating so that the non-custodial parent may attend.

Florida: Child custody refers to the care, control, and maintenance of a minor. Child custody can be awarded to one parent (known as sole custody) or to both parents (known as joint custody). With sole custody, one parent gets legal and physical custody of a child as well as all decision making and can also mean no parenting time for the non-custodial parent.

Georgia:  Under Georgia law, both parents are equal when it comes to child custody arrangements. The court may award joint custody or sole custody. One parent has final decision-making rights about medical, educational, extracurricular, and religious decisions. Physical custody refers to which parent the child lives with.

Hawaii: Hawaii courts recognize legal custody and physical custody. As in other states, either one (sole custody) or both (joint custody) parents may have legal and/or physical custody. For example, a joint legal custody arrangement allows both parents to make major life decisions on behalf of the child.

Idaho: Sole legal custody refers to a custody arrangement where only one of the parents has the decision-making rights, responsibilities, and authority relating to issues concerning the health, education, and welfare of the child. Sole physical custody means that the child would reside with one parent.

Illinois: In Illinois, parents can only obtain sole custody or joint custody. … So, if the court awards you sole custody, that means you are the only one who can make decisions concerning your child. However, if joint custody is awarded, you must share this responsibility with your child’s other parent.

Indiana: It’s important to know that just because a court awards two parents joint legal custody, it does mean they will be awarded equal physical custody. Indiana law is very specific on this point, and it’s common for one parent to have sole physical custody while sharing joint legal custody with the other parent.

Iowa: Sole legal custody means that only one parent has the legal responsibility of a minor child. Sole legal custody is granted if a court determines that it would be better for just one parent to make the decisions for the child.

Kansas: Sole legal custody means one parent has the primary power to make decisions affecting the health, education, and welfare of the child. Sole legal custody does not completely prevent the other parent from being involved in making decisions, but it does mean the sole custodian has the ultimate decision-making power.

Kentucky: When a marriage has broken down, Kentucky courts have a strong tendency to see that both parents remain a part of a child’s life. To win sole custody, it must be proven that one parent is unfit to care for a child and represents a danger to their best interest.

Louisiana: Sole custody can also be applied to either physical or legal custody. In most cases where one co-parent has sole legal custody of the child, the non-custodial co-parent will be given visitation rights if it is in the child’s best interest.

Maine: Sole custody may also be granted to one parent, with adequate visitation rights granted to the other.

Maryland: In cases where sole physical custody is awarded to one co-parent, Maryland child custody laws will typically grant visitation rights to the non-custodial co-parent.

Massaschutes: Joint physical custody is not the norm in Massachusetts. Sole custody is very unusual and it means (whether in terms of legal or physical custody) that all of the custodial rights are assigned to one parent. Generally, a party can prove to the court that final joint legal custody is in the child’s best interest.

Michigan: In Michigan, the court may determine that parents cannot adequately work together to take care of their child and award sole custody to one parent, meaning that one parent has both physical and legal custody.

Minnesota: Legal custody in Minnesota can be either “sole” or “joint” (also referred to as “shared”). “Sole legal custody” means that one parent has the right to make these decisions for the minor child(ren) without the other parent’s involvement.

Mississippi: Sole physical custody means that one parent has the child for the majority of the time and the other parent has visitation. Sole legal custody means that one parent has decision-making rights with regards to a child’s health, education, and welfare.

Missouri: Sole legal custody refers to a custody arrangement where only one of the parents has the decision-making rights, responsibilities, and authority relating to issues concerning the health, education, and welfare of the child. Sole physical custody means that the child would reside with one parent.

Montana: In Montana, the court classifies custody into different types, such as legal custody, physical custody, sole, or joint custody. A parent is said to have legal custody of a child when that parent makes the important decisions in the child’s life. Some of those decisions include education, religion, and medical care.

Nebraska: Sole custody is when just one parent or guardian is granted physical and legal custody (although some states allow parents determined to be unfit to be a custodial parent to have legal custody). Nebraska law allows grandparent visitation and considers the child’s own wishes when making custody decisions.

Nevada: In determining child custody, courts in Nevada are guided by a principle called “the best interests of the child,” which means that the court’s sole consideration is what it believes is best for the child. In a custody hearing, the court can consider several factors to determine what is in “best interest of the child.”

New Hampshire: Under child custody laws in New Hampshire, joint legal custody, wherein both parents share joint responsibility for all parental rights and decisions, is deemed beneficial for the child. The courts can establish visitation between one or more parent, even if both parents agreed upon a no-visitation policy.

New Jersey: When a parent is granted sole custody, it means s/he has both legal and physical custody of the child. New Jersey has a strong bias in favor of preserving the family unit and will only grant sole custody when it is in the child’s best interests.

New Mexico: Common in many other states, New Mexico child custody laws recognize both legal and physical custody. These will be assigned to parents on a joint or sole basis.

New York: Sole legal gives one parent the sole decision-making authority on these matters. Joint physical (also referred to as shared physical) custody means that the parents usually split the custody of the child 50/50 or fairly equally.

North Carolina: The parents can define what joint custody means to them. Sole physical custody means that the child lives with one parent for significantly more time than the other. Joint legal custody means that the parents make decisions together about the child’s welfare, including things like medical care and education.

North Dakota: In any divorce, North Dakota family courts award custody of the children to one or both parents. Custody is divided into legal custody and physical custody. … In North Dakota, sole physical custody is given to the parent with whom the children spend the most time with.

Ohio: Sole custody is a type of child custody in Ohio that parents can fight for when going through a divorce. Sole custody is defined as one parent having the exclusive legal and physical custody of his or her children. Sole legal custody occurs when one parent is awarded the sole rights to make decisions for the child.

Oklahoma: Legal custody may also be either joint or sole. When ex-spouses are communicating well, joint legal custody can work, but when they are not, the court may award sole custody in Oklahoma to one of the parents. Fathers and mothers are equally capable of being awarded sole custody in Oklahoma.

Oregon: A court cannot award joint custody in Oregon unless both parents agree to it. Sole legal custody in Oregon means that the custodial parent makes all major decisions regarding the child. The court’s primary consideration in awarding custody is “the best interests and welfare of the child.”

Pennsylvania: Generally, even if one party has primary physical custody the parties will share legal custody, or the right to make decisions for the child. Sole custody is the award of both physical and legal custody of the child to one parent.

Rhode Island: In Rhode Island, sole custody may refer to either physical or legal custody. Sole legal custody grants the custodian decision-making authority over the child, even if the other parent shares physical custody or has substantial visitation.

South Carolina: In South Carolina, the court may award sole or shared custody. When a parent has sole custody, the child primarily lives with one parent while the other parent may have visitation rights. The parents may share legal custody, meaning both parents make decisions on behalf of the child.

South Dakota: Physical custody, just like legal custody, can be awarded to one or both parents. With this being said, judges in South Dakota most often award sole custody to the parent with whom the child lives with the majority of the time.

Tennessee: Traditionally, sole custody meant the parent who had more time with the children and who was granted sole decision-making authority over the children. However, sole custody no longer exists as a meaningful legal term in Tennessee law. In 2001, Tennessee’s parenting plan law created parenting plans.

Texas: Sole custody can be awarded to one parent, which means that the child resides primarily with that parent and that parent has the exclusive right to make decisions about the child’s upbringing. However, Texas courts prefer joint custody arrangements so the child maintains a meaningful relationship with both parents.

Utah: The Utah courts are committed to ordering custody arrangements that serve a child’s best interests. In general, state law is preferable toward joint legal custody arrangements. However, there may be reasonable cause for the courts to order sole legal and/or physical custody.

Vermont: Sole physical and/or legal responsibility means that only one parent will be granted rights. This could mean that only one parent is responsible for the child’s daily care or for making decisions for the child. 

Virginia: “Sole custody” means that one person retains responsibility for the care and control of a child and has primary authority to make decisions concerning the child.

Washington: Under Washington law, sole or full legal custody means that only one parent has the authority given by the court to make major decisions about the child. This includes decisions about a child’s upbringing, such as educational, medical, and religious decisions.

West Virginia: West Virginia courts award custody of children based on the “best interests of the child” standard. The judge may decide to award joint custody to both parents or sole custody to one parent, depending on whether both parents can provide for the child’s mental, physical, and emotional needs.

Wisconsin: Sole Custody in Wisconsin. Sole custody can mean different things depending on how the parent understands the terminology, which can be convoluted. Sole physical custody – this means the child lives with one parent primarily as is seen in an every other weekend visitation schedule.

Wyoming: Wyoming recognizes three forms of custody: sole, joint, and split. A parent with sole custody provides a home for the child and acts as the child’s primary caregiver; this is commonly known as physical custody. When one parent is awarded sole custody, the other parent typically receives visitation.

If you need help in determining whether you can fight for sole custody, feel free to contact me and we will take a look at it together.

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