It is common for divorcing parents to divide parenting time with their children and also the right to make decisions about their lives. Judges tend to find ways to establish joint custody arrangements even when there is significant conflict between the parents. Psychological research has made it clear that for most children, consistent involvement with both parents is necessary for optimal social and emotional development. Essentially, judges want parents to share custody because that is what is often what is best for the children.
However, in a handful of scenarios, Pennsylvania family law judges may agree with the assertion that the children would fare better in one home. What are some of the rare reasons that judges might award one parent sole custody in a Pennsylvania divorce?
Sole custody often reflects danger or instability
Parents have obligations to their children, not the least of which is the requirement that they provide for a child’s basic needs. An adult unable to provide space or transportation for the children may not be in a position to have parenting time. Still, the emotional and financial instability that comes with divorce is often and temporary, and judges may not want to make a long-term decision about a family’s circumstances based on short-term issues.
Parents typically need proof that there are recurring concerns that will affect the health or safety of their children if they want their claims to influence a judge’s decisions. Some kind of documentation beyond a parent’s claims will typically be necessary if someone hopes to convince the judge that they should have sole custody.
Some of the concerns that might justify limiting one parent’s time with the children or influence over their daily lives include:
- substance abuse issues
- problems with domestic violence
- a history of abandonment or neglect
- extreme physical or mental health issues
Barring severe situations that prevent a parent from meeting a child’s needs appropriately, it is very unlikely that the Pennsylvania family courts will give one parent full custody when the other still wants a relationship with the children.
Unnecessary custody disputes can hurt a parent’s case
If someone appears to be very hostile to the other parent of their children, their behavior might influence how much time they get with their children. Judges question those who would interfere in the relationship that their ex has with the children just as they question those who mistreat or neglect their children.
Those who understand that shared custody is typically the preferred outcome for most families may do a better job of building their case for sole custody or of accepting the likely outcome of their custody negotiations. Learning more about when the courts do and do not award sole custody can help people ask informed questions of their attorneys and ultimately decide how to approach an upcoming custody hearing.