Frequently Asked Questions on Custody and Child Support

By Mildred N. Phillips

Question 1: What does it mean to have sole custody of my child?

Sole custody means that you are the parent who has both physical custody and legal custody of the child. This means that the child would live with you and you would be the only parent making decisions regarding the child's upbringing and welfare—the school that the child would go to, his (her) medical needs, social activities, etc. You would not need the other parent's consent before you can make decisions for the child.

Question 2: Is sole custody the same thing as full or complete custody?

Yes. Sole or full or complete custody means that you have both physical custody and legal custody of the child; that the child lives with you and you are the only parent who would make decisions regarding the child's upbringing and welfare—the school the child would go to, his (her) medical needs, social activities, etc. You would not need the other parent's consent before you can make decisions for the child.

Question 3: What does it mean when the Court issues an Order for sole physical custody and joint legal custody?

It means that the child would live with one parent, but both parents would have equal say on the child's upbringing—how the child is raised; the school the child goes to, her medical needs, etc. Both parents must agree to medical treatment, but a parent can make medical decision for the child in case of emergency without consulting the other parent, but must inform the other parent of the decision after the medical emergency has been dealt with.

Question 4: Can I just reduce the amount of my Child Support payments without going to Court if my ex and I have agreed on the reduced amount?

No, you cannot. Only a Court can modify a Child Support Order. Until the Order is modified, you are legally responsible for the original amount. Also, your ex can change her (his) mind and file Complaint for Contempt against you for not paying the amount ordered by the Court. So, it is always prudent to file Complaint for Modification of the Support and get approval of the Court before reducing your support payments even if you and your ex have come to an agreement on a reduced amount.

Question 5: Can I stop paying Child Support if I lose my job without going to Court first?

No, you cannot. You must get the permission of the Court to suspend your Child Support payments because of your job loss by filing Complaint for Modification of Child Support. The Court may not specifically grant your request, but may instead order you to pay a nominal amount until you have found a new job. You have obligation to support your child or children even if you do not have a job.

Question 6: Do I stop making my Child Support payments if I give custody of the children to my ex without Court approval?

No. Until the Court approves your arrangement, you would still be responsible for making Child Support payments to your ex. So, it is imperative that when you agree to change custody that you obtain the approval of the Court to avoid making Child Support payments to your ex who no longer has custody of the children. You must also include the change in Child Support obligation as part of the custody arrangement.

Question 7: Can I leave town with the children without telling my spouse if there is no custody Order?

Yes, you can, but the better thing would be to let the other parent know, if there is no issue of domestic violence. Until there is a custody Order, both parents have equal custody of the children. You are not going to be charged with breaking any law since there is no custody Order in place.

Question 8: Can I be charged with parental kidnapping if I leave town without telling my husband if there is no custody Order?

No, you cannot be charged with parental kidnapping because both parents have equal custody until the Court has issued a custody Order. So, you can leave town without telling the other parent without getting into legal trouble.

Question 9: Does an unwed mother need the child's father consent before leaving the state with the child if there is no Court Order in place?

No. The father has no rights until he has filed Complaint with the Court for Custody and Visitation rights. Until the Court has granted his request, the unwed mother has sole custody of the child and she does not have to obtain the father's consent before leaving the state with the child.

Question 10: Can I refuse to let the father have the child on his visitation days if the child says he does not want to go to his father's house?

No, you cannot. You would be in Contempt of Court for interfering with the father's visitation rights as ordered by the Court. You may be put in jail until you comply. Also, you may be ordered by the Court to pay for the father's Court costs including his Attorney's fee for prosecuting the contempt action.

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