Most of the time, mothers and fathers will share custody of their children in the event of a divorce. Sometimes, however, it is in the child’s best interest that one parent has sole custody and the other has visitation, whether supervised or not. And of course, in rare cases, a non-custodial parent will not be allowed to have contact with his or her child. Rest assured that sole custody is not granted lightly; if a loving and involved parent wants to pursue joint custody, chances are good that they will get it. Still, it’s important to know the reasons that sole custody might be granted. Read on to find out.
What Are the Different Types of Custody?
First, it’s important to understand what is meant by custody. Most of the time, people think of physical custody, which is who physically has the child all or some of the time. If one parent has sole physical custody, that means that the child lives with them and usually has visitation with the other parent. If both parents share joint physical custody, then the child lives at both homes. It does not mean that the time is split exactly in half with each parent; the schedule will depend on whether the child is in school, how far apart the parents live, and so on. But for the most part, the child will spend time regularly at the home of each parent.
Legal custody is related to physical custody, but it is not the same thing. The parent who has sole legal custody will make decisions for the child regarding where they go to school, which doctor they see, whether they can or should have elective medical procedures, and so on. Parents who share joint legal custody will make these decisions together (and one parent might be considered the “tiebreaker” in certain areas if both parents cannot come to an agreement).
Circumstances That Might Result in Sole Custody
In general, courts try to award parents joint custody when possible. There are, however, some times when joint custody is not in the best interest of the child. They include (but are not necessarily limited to):
- Ongoing drug or alcohol abuse. If one parent has an addiction to alcohol or other substances, it might not be safe for them to be left unattended with their child. They might not be able to safely drive with their child or supervise them overnight. In this case, sole custody might be granted to the non-addicted parent and visitation might be supervised.
- Child abuse or neglect. If one parent has abused or grossly neglected the child, the other parent might be given sole custody. Depending on the circumstances, the non-custodial parent might or might not be granted visitation. The judge will make a decision based on the best interest of the child, how the child was affected, and whether the parent has gone through the steps needed to be a better parent.
- Domestic violence. If one parent was abusive toward the other parent, the abused parent might get sole custody. Again, this decision will be made based on the best interest of the child, whether the child witnessed the abuse, and whether the judge believes the child will be safe with the parent accused of domestic violence.
- Mental health issues. Most parents with mental illness are able to take good care of their children. Some, however, particularly those who do not accept or seek treatment for their condition, are unable to provide a safe place for the child. In this case, the healthy parent might be given sole custody of the child.
- Abandonment. If one parent has left the other parent and child and is not having contact with them, that could be grounds for the other parent being awarded sole custody.
- One parent in jail. If one parent is incarcerated, the other can ask for sole custody. That parent might or might not decide to take the child to visit the other parent in prison. Additionally, in some cases, a parent who will be in prison for a long time might have his or her parental rights terminated.
Tips for Parents Who Want to Pursue Sole Custody
If you are a parent who is considering asking for sole custody, it is important to keep in mind the effect that this can have on your child and your child’s other parent. In some cases, it is in the best interest of the child not to have contact (or unsupervised contact) with his or her other parent; most of the time, however, it is beneficial for children to have a relationship with both parents. When there is abuse, neglect, violence, abandonment, or substance addiction involved, the judge will make the decision that is in the best interest of your child.
When you go to court, it is important that you dress appropriately, observe proper courtroom decorum, and come prepared with all of the documentation that you need. Being unprepared or acting inappropriately in the courtroom will not give the judge a good impression of you and might cause him or her to rule against sole custody.
Finally, be aware that in most cases, the non-custodial parent will still have visitation rights. If you are concerned for your child’s safety, be sure to bring that up so the judge can consider supervised visitation. This can keep your child safe while still allowing him or her to have a relationship with your ex.
If you or your ex-spouse is pursuing sole custody, you should have good representation by your side. National Family Solutions is a legal advocacy group that can help mothers and fathers pursue what is in the best interest of their children. Contact us today to find out whether we can help you with your case. Our services cost much less than a private attorney’s fees and you can feel confident representing yourself with our expertise behind you. We can help you make sure your child is safe and loved, so get in touch now.