Sole Physical Custody

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Sole physical custody is the most sought after type of child custody among parents who ask the courts to intervene and determine their family's custody arrangement. Yet that doesn't mean sole custody is the best scenario for your children. Before you file for sole physical custody, understand your options and consider the pros and cons of this particular custody arrangement.

What is Sole Physical Custody?

Sole physical custody is an arrangement where the children live with one parent — called the primary custodial parent — more than 50% of the time.

This generally allows the children to live in one residence or 'home base,' as opposed to going back and forth between two homes. However, in such cases, the non-custodial parent is often granted generous visitation time. The phrase "sole custody" is often used interchangeably with "sole physical custody." 

Sole Physical Custody Statistics

According to the U.S. Census Bureau1, one-quarter of all children under the age of 18 currently live with one parent, though they may have regular visitation with the other parent. And while courts no longer openly favor granting sole physical custody to moms, as a general rule, statistics suggest that little has changed in recent years. Based on the most recent census figures, only one in six custodial parents is a father. 

In most cases, the non-custodial parent is awarded generous visitation rights, including sleepovers. While this is essential to nurturing the children's ongoing relationship with both parents, any non-custodial parent can tell you that it's not the same as living with your kids.

Pros of Sole Physical Custody

Like any other custody arrangement, sole physical custody has pros and cons. Some of the key benefits include:

  • The children reside in one primary location, so there is no need to ferry their belongings back and forth between two residences.
  • In many cases, the children are able to continue living in the same location where they resided prior to the divorce or separation. This minimizes the degree of disruption they're exposed to and can contribute to a sense of stability.
  • The arrangement enables the children to continue their established routines. For example, they may not have to change schools or find new friends.
  • In most cases, the non-custodial parent is granted liberal visitation rights, so the children can continue to enjoy a close relationship with both parents.

Cons of Sole Physical Custody

There are downsides to this custody arrangement, as well. Before committing to sole physical custody, consider the following negatives:

  • The children no longer reside with both parents. Even with generous visitation, this represents a significant loss for the children and the non-custodial parent.
  • Typically, the children and the non-custodial parent miss one another tremendously.
  • Getting used to the arrangement can be a bumpy process.
  • It can appear as though the parent who was granted sole physical custody was presumed be the courts to be a "better parent."
  • The non-custodial parent may feel like "just a visitor" in the children's lives.
  • Visitation can turn into a form of play time, robbing the children of what it would be like to actually live with the non-custodial parent, sharing everyday chores and responsibilities.

Making a Successful Adjustment

As your child's parent, you can minimize the negative effects of a sole physical custody arrangement by sticking to a regular visitation schedule and doing what you can to maintain a healthy coparenting relationship with your ex.

At the same time, give your kids permission to express their feelings as you all adjust to your family's new routine.