If I Have Sole Custody, Do I Have to Allow Visitation?

The Four Part Answer to this Common Question

Whether you should allow visitation depends on the type of sole custody you have

By sole custody, we are referring to physical custody, not legal custody. Physical custody is the type of custody that deals with visitation (parenting time).

Let's look closer at this question. The answers may surprise you.

Different Kinds of Sole Custody

Sole custody in a temporary custody order

While the divorce or parentage case is still pending, a temporary custody order gives you sole physical custody and minimal to no parenting time to the other parent.

Sole custody in a judgment or final post-judgment order

There is no case pending anymore, and there is a judgment that gives you sole physical custody and little to no time with the other parent.

Sole custody because of parental abandonment

There is no court order. You have sole custody because the other parent has abandoned the child or exercises minimal visitation by their choice.

Sole custody because one parent is frustrating the other's time

There is no court order. You have sole custody because you are refusing to agree to visitation, and you are frustrating the other parent's desire and efforts to see the child or children.

Answers to the Sole Custody and Visitation Question

Click on each question to jump to the answer.

If I have sole custody as part of a temporary custody order, do I have to allow visitation?

Whether temporary or in a judgment, court orders are directive, not suggestions. So, you need not do anything the court order does not require.

However, since temporary orders can change and family law courts often look at a parent's co-parenting during a divorce or parentage case, being inflexible may cause the court to change the temporary orders.

If a child is not in danger and the reason you have sole custody is that the other parent's ability to exercise visitation is limited for reasons unrelated to a child's health or safety, then consider agreeing to an additional reasonable time or provide flexibility.

If I have sole custody as part of a custody order in a judgment, do I have to allow visitation?

A custody order in a judgment is more "final" than a temporary order. That is an oxymoron because no custody order is final. Custody orders are modifiable.

There is nothing wrong with sticking to the custody order in a judgment. However, once again, ask yourself if you are doing it for good reasons or are being inflexible.

That reasonable flexibility may avoid a post-judgment modification request by the other parent because the other parent will not see a need for getting the court involved (and costing both of you a lot of money in attorney's fees) if you are reasonable with the visitation occasionally.

Understand the intent here. If the other parent's requests are unreasonable, you need not agree to them. And if the other parent is an abuser or otherwise a danger to the child, it is best to stick to court orders. Parents like that enjoy conflict and ultimately may be using the request for more time as a way of harassing you.

If I have sole custody because the other parent has abandoned the child or exercises minimal visitation, do I have to allow visitation?

Suppose the other parent is uninterested in being a parent and makes little to no effort to exercise visitation. In that case, you do not have to make them do it.

Parents correctly conclude both parents should be involved in a child's life, but that is really when both parents want to be. It can be heartbreaking for a child to grow up with only one parent because the other parent has abandoned their responsibilities.

Children can grow up with significant insecurities and wondering what they did to cause a parent to abandon them.

Our experience has been bringing this person into a child's life only to have them leave again, and repeating this process can be more traumatic.

Consult a therapist with experience with children and find a solution that works for your child. You are making the best of a challenging situation.

If I have sole custody even though the other parent wants more time and will exercise it, but I do not want the other parent to have it, do I have to allow visitation?

Sometimes, denying visitation is proper. Legitimate concerns about a child's health or safety are good reasons to say no to parenting time. But the key word there is legitimate.

Child abuse, serious neglect, substance abuse, threat of abduction, domestic violence, a living situation that places the child in harm, and situations like this are good reasons to limit or deny parenting time.

Suppose you do not want to allow visitation because:

  1. You do not like the other parent,
  2. You do not think they are as good a parent as you,
  3. Their parenting style is different, or
  4. You have other reasons that have nothing to do with actually protecting a child or children from harm, you are walking a dangerous line of being labeled a restrictive gatekeeper.

An important factor when a court looks at custody is which parent is more willing to frustrate the other parent's parenting time.

You do not want a court to believe you are the unreasonable parent who unjustifiably frustrates the other parent's time and reasonable requests consistent with a child's best interest.

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