When is it appropriate to pursue sole custody?
You’re about to file for divorce — a decision you feel is the right one — yet you are wavering over whether you should seek sole custody of the kids or not. You’re unsure just what that entails and how your decision will affect your children going forward. What should you do?
There is no checklist to determine whether sole custody is the appropriate approach in these circumstances. However, the guiding principle for all family law courts here in Pennsylvania (and elsewhere in the United States) is to do whatever is in the best interests of the children. In most circumstances, the courts have determined that will be joint custody. However, there are exceptions, as detailed below.
Is your spouse violent or abusive?
Certainly, if they have ever been abusive or violent toward the children, that’s a major red flag and indicator that joint custody is not appropriate. But even if their violent tendencies have not extended toward their treatment of the children, a case can be made that sole custody with you as the custodial parent is the safer and more appropriate choice.
What about substance abuse?
Simply having a substance abuse or alcohol problem does not preclude shared custody. However, the courts will want to know the following:
- Is the addict or alcoholic still using or consuming drugs or alcohol?
- Do they have a sponsor and are they attending 12-step meetings to curb their addictions?
- Have they been through detox and treatment for their addiction(s)?
- Are they willing to submit to random drug tests or alcohol monitoring in order to see their children?
What is the other person’s physical and mental health status?
A parent may, through no fault of their own, be too physically, mentally or emotionally incapacitated by illness or injury to be able to manage joint custody of their children. In these situations, it is best to seek sole custody and then hash out reasonable visitation arrangements with the children’s other parent and their family law attorney. This will allow them to continue to maintain a close and functional relationship with the kids.
Mediation can bring divorcing spouses closer to accord
When divorces are filed, emotions run high. Later, after flared tempers have cooled and reason has prevailed, the spouses can often reach common ground through mediation. Ask your family law attorney if mediation might work for you and your family.