Parenting: the Pros and Cons of Sole Legal Custody versus Joint Legal Custody

Sole custody refers to one parent having all the legal authority to make decisions pertaining to a child or children. The three main areas of decision-making are: education, medical and religion. When one parent has sole custody it usually means the non-custodial parent is subject to an order of visitation or parenting time. When a non-custodial parent has an order of visitation, it refers to a visitation schedule that may be court mandated for weekly or monthly access to the child or children depending on the circumstances involved in the case. Sole custody should be sought when the other parent is abusive, mentally ill, alcoholic, drug abuser or danger to the children or to oneself.
Joint Custody or Joint Legal Custody refers to equal decision-making authority between both parents. In this case, the parents have made an arrangement to work together and make decisions on all issues pertaining to the children. In divorce, this agreement reassures that the parents will continue to share the responsibility of parenting and caring for the child or children.

Why is sole custody not the best option?

  • One parent makes all the decisions for the children.
  • One parent gets less time with the child.
  • One parent has a more meaningful relationship with the child.
  • One parent feels less appreciated and needed.
  • One parent only gets visitation not quality parenting time (only during summer vacation or extended breaks).
  • One parent works harder to try to gain the love, respect and acceptance of his/her children.
  • One parent can end up buying his/her child’s love.

How does sole custody affect the child?

  • The child does not have regular and possibly consistent access to the non-custodial parent.
  • The child has a different relationship with the non-custodial parent and may feel neglected if visitation is missed.
  • The child will have more loyalty towards the custodial parent and may treat the non-custodial parent with less respect.
  • The child will most likely be in the middle of all disagreements between the parents because the parents don’t get along.
  • The child may refuse visits with the non-custodial parent because the custodial parent constantly badmouths the other parent.
  • The child will have a limited relationship with the non-custodial parent and visits will only be extended if the custodial parent agrees.
  • The child may not get the love and attention they deserve from the non-custodial parent.

What are the advantages of joint custody?

  • Both parents are allowed to share in responsibilities of child rearing and decision making.
  • Both parents have an input on parenting style, discipline methods, and other decisions pertaining to the children.
  • Both parents can work out equal parenting access and not just a visitation schedule that is limited to every other weekend.
  • Both parents can participate in activities that are important to the child (sporting events, parent-teacher conferences, school trips).
  • Both parents can establish a meaningful and nurturing relationship with the child.
  • Both parents can have an equally rewarding relationship with the child without making the child feel loyal to one parent over the other parent.
  • Both parents communicate and do not involve the child in the middle of their disputes.

How does joint custody benefit the child?

  • The child will feel comfortable in the presence of both parents and will not feel guilty for wanting additional time with one parent over the other parent.
  • The child does not have to follow a visitation schedule; he or she can request to communicate with either parent at any time.
  • The child does not have to have to be the pawn or messenger in the parent’s dispute.
  • The child will be reassured that both parents want what’s best for ME” and not THEM.”
  • The child can have both parents participate in events that are meaningful to them (school plays, trips).
  • The child will understand that he/she has two homes and both parents love him/her equally.
  • The child can relax and not feel pressured by both parents telling him/her what to do.
  • The child can love and respect both parents with no guilt.

In conclusion, in this work I realize a lot of parents come forth and state they would like to pursue sole custody but parents should really consider the disadvantage of only having one parent make all the decisions. Children should have two active parents who can nurture, support and love them unconditionally.