I have been a judge in family court for seventeen years and, with few exceptions, I have found that those who insist on sole custody of their children often don’t really know what it entails. In fairness, neither do those who insist on joint custody. Divorce is hard enough, but deciding what type of custody to choose is not only difficult but also fraught with confusion.
Unfortunately, because of this confusion, there is a lot of unnecessary expense and heartache. It’s true that sole custody has attributes that joint custody does not that favor the custodial parent; for example, it may be easier to get a court to allow you to move out of the jurisdiction, and the sole custodian has the right to make all the major decisions about education, medical care and religion without consulting the other parent. Additionally, the non-custodial parent usually does not get access to school, activities, or medical records.
When a parent seeks sole custody, they will usually tell you that they are doing it to protect their children from undue influence from a defective other parent. Courts often decide when there are really combative parents, drug or alcohol dependent parents or those with mental disorders that sole custody is preferable.
When considering which to choose remember there are hybrids of both joint and sole custody. The controlling factors depend upon the rights spelled out in the parenting order. I have seen many sole custody orders where the non-custodial parent has more parenting time than in some joint custodial orders. Parenting orders (joint or sole custody) agreed upon by the parties can be made as unique as a fingerprint and meet both parties’ requirements.
Typically, the sole custodian has much more time with the children, but the tide is turning against that sentiment as research continues to weigh heavily in favor of joint custody or more parenting time for the non-custodial parent. Although in most jurisdictions joint custody can only be had by agreement of the parties, more and more jurisdictions are allowing judges to award joint custody even when it is in dispute.
It is never an easy decision to make because, with sole custody, while you might have the rights I just mentioned, the trade off is the benefits of maximum contact with both parents. Too often anger at the other spouse influences this decision. But it is never a matter of what the other parent deserves when you put the focus on the children.