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What is Sole Custody?

sole custody

Child custody arrangements are one of the most contentious topics during divorce mediation. Having sole custody means that an individual parent is responsible for making all the children's significant life decisions. It is not the preferred option by most family courts, but it can be implemented in certain situations. The other parent does not have a say in the child's life, but they have visitation rights. They may also be obligated to pay child support. Courts will generally reject a request for sole custody of the children in a case where either parent is equally fit but would rather dissolve the relationship. Should it be the case, the parents will probably be encouraged to work out a way to handle co-parenting effectively for the sake of their children.

When Courts Rule for Sole Custody

sole custody meaning

Should the circumstances show that either parent can raise the child, sole custody would be a non-starter, in this situation, it may be necessary to have joint custody The courts must ascertain if sole custody may benefit the child. That is, if they would benefit from sole custody more than having both parents in the same household. Secondly, should a parent be unfit or pose a danger to the child, it makes the case for sole custody. If a parent seeks sole custody to exclude the other from the child's life, likely, it will not be awarded. The basis of sole custody judgment is to determine if either parent is unfit to raise the children in that household.

Reasons for Sole Custody

Most courts take the position that a child needs to be raised by both of the parents in a household unless there is compelling evidence to show sole custody is necessary. A few factors, though, determine if sole custody is appropriate.

Domestic Violence

Physical, emotional, and economic abuse may occur in the family setup. Unfortunately, this issue may extend to the children causing long-term damage to their psyche. Depending on the state, if one of the parents has a history of domestic violence, the courts can award sole custody to their spouse to protect them from future harm. The case for sole custody is stronger if the domestic violence happened in front of the child or the children expressed significant fear of the parent.

Substance Abuse

Sole custody is awarded if a parent has a history of drug or alcohol abuse. If they have drug dependency issues, these parents will less likely to be responsible adults or maintain the household appropriately. The courts weigh the effect of substance abuse on the parent's ability to care for and provide for the child. They also consider the potential risk to the children's safety and well-being.

Geographical Distance

When a parent lives a significant distance away from the household, it can be taxing to maintain a meaningful relationship with the children. The parents cannot physically or emotionally attend to the child, which is not in their best interest. Courts also consider geographical distance when determining the child's residence to ensure they are in an environment with access to essential services and support systems.


A lack of parental involvement may negatively affect the child's mental and emotional state, as it can make them feel neglected. It is also difficult for a child to have a healthy connection with an uninvolved parent. If the parent abandons the household for lengthy periods and does not support its running emotionally, financially, or physically, it makes a case for sole custody to their partner.

Financial Ability to Provide

sole legal custody

The parent's ability to provide for the children in the household is also considered a determining factor. That is the ability to provide for basic needs, including food, shelter, clothing, education, and healthcare. To determine this, the courts will deliberate on the parent's employment status, income, history of neglect, and ability to provide a stable home environment. If either parent has had shaky finances for a significant period and cannot sustain themselves, there is a stronger case for the other to apply for sole legal custody. It may not be considered a determining factor but used with others to create the case for custody.


If a parent is imprisoned, they cannot provide for the home or give appropriate care. The other parent does have cause to seek sole legal custody. However, the other parent may visit the child upon their release. Parents are not obligated, though, to take their children to visit inmates, especially if they perceive it will psychologically damage them.

Child Preference

Cases for sole custody are stronger if the child has also expressed a desire to live with a parent. This is considered if the child is old enough to express a rational preference. The courts will determine the child's age, whether they are old enough to understand the situation, not to mention their relationship with either parent. That may be taken as one of the determining factors toward sole legal custody.

Mental Problems

Having mental issues can affect the parent's emotional and psychological well-being to the point they cannot care for their household. Conditions such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or psychosis can make the person have difficulties differentiating reality from fiction. It can severely affect the ability of the parent to care for the child and cause long-term damage to the child. In this scenario, sole custody in favor of the other parent would be advisable.

Parental Alienation

Parental alienation is where one of the parents tries to turn a child against the other. In these cases, if proven, the alienation may be viewed as a form of emotional abuse to the child, and sole custody may be granted in favor of the other parent should they be found responsible.

Lack of Cooperation

It refers to a case when one of the parents is not willing to work towards supporting the household or making decisions concerning the children. The primary concern is the child's best interests, meaning the courts can award sole custody to the communicative or responsible parent.