What's the Difference Between Sole Legal and Sole Physical Custody in South Carolina


If you are going through or have gone through a divorce and have children, then you have probably heard the terms "sole legal custody" and “sole physical custody." These two terms are commonly misunderstood and this article provides a brief explanation of the differences between legal and physical custody in South Carolina.

What is Sole Legal Custody

Sole custody relates to a parent's right to participate in important decision-making that relates to a child. If a parent is awarded sole custody, the other parent does not have any decision-making authority. The parent has no input in such matters as where the child goes to school or what religion is practiced.

Sole Legal Custody vs. Joint Legal Custody

Courts are moving away from awarding sole custody to one parent and toward expanding the role of both parents in their children's lives. Even where courts do award sole physical custody, the parents often still share joint legal custody. With joint legal custody and sole physical custody, parents make joint decisions about the child's upbringing even though the children live primarily with one parent.

Relocating With the Child

Even though you may have sole legal custody of the child, it does not imply that you can to relocate without the court's permission. If the other parent has visitation rights, a relocation jeopardizes his/her rights and therefore relocation must be addressed by the court. Usually, the court will issue a temporary order that maintains the status quo during the case. The child usually remains in place, but temporary visitation is set up while the case is ongoing.

What is Sole Physical Custody

Physical custody refers to where the children live on a regular basis. Physical custody can be shared by both parents or granted to just one.

The custody oder issued at the time of your divorce can affect you later. In South Carolina, as long as they stay within the state, a parent with sole physical custody has a presumed right to move away with the kids. To prevent a move, the noncustodial parent must go to court and show that the move would be harmful to the children.

Sole Physical Custody vs. Joint Physical Custody

With sole physical custody, one parent is deemed the primary physical caretaker and the other parent has visitation rights under a parenting agreement or schedule. With joint physical custody, time with the children is usually more evenly divided between the parents. One parent may still be the primary custodian, but the other parent may be able to visit the children more often.

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This article was last reviewed or amended on Jun 6, 2017.