Before the Industrial Revolution, children were considered to be the legal ‘property’ of the fathers. It was believed that in case of divorce, the children benefited more by staying with the father instead of the mother. Then at the turn of the twentieth century, the concept of a mother being the child’s ‘caretaker’ came into prominence. For a long time after that, the mother was almost always granted the sole custody of a child. But later, the American Courts began to give more importance to the ‘best interest of a child’ in deciding the child custody. As of now, most parents are given joint custody (joint physical custody or joint legal custody) of their child (or children) so that the child continues to share a meaningful bond with both his/her parents. Sole custody (sole physical custody or sole legal custody) is given only in exceptional cases to either parents (sometimes sole custody is given to a third-party like grandparents or guardians). These exceptional cases include those in which one or both the parents are unfit and a court is convinced that the situation of a parent (or parents) can have a negative impact on the well-being of a child.
Steps for Getting Sole Child Custody
Step 1: Determine the Reason behind Your Demand for Sole Custody
The first thing a court will want to know is why you want sole custody. If you don’t have a genuine reason and the court realizes that you are using your child to get back at, or hurt the other parent, you are liable to lose some or all of your existing custody rights. The reasons that are accepted by the court are listed below:
- A parent is suffering from a certified mental illness that can harm the child.
- A parent is a drug addict or a chronic alcoholic.
- A parent is known to be violent and/or has been involved in child abuse.
- The parent is a convicted criminal (crimes that warrant sole custody differ from state to state).
- A parent has a history of being a pedophile.
- A parent has neglected or abandoned the child.
- A parent has an unfit partner or spouse.
- A parent indulges in destructive behavior which can put a child in dangerous situations.
- Both parents have high conflict and cannot take a ‘joint’ decision for their child.
- Being with one of the parents is in the best interest of a child.
- A parent has violated previous court orders significantly.
Step 2: Prove the Validity of Your Reasons
Along with a definite reason, you will also need a backing of substantial proof to validate them. Some of the ways you can prove your point are:
- Photographs or videos that ‘show’ what you ‘tell’
- Witnesses, especially those from educational or medical fields
- Reports from a hospital or police department
- Letters, conversation recordings, printout of messages or emails that ‘speak’ on your behalf
- Any other document that will strengthen your case (e.g., a record of times the other parent has missed visitations, skipped child support payment, etc.)
Step 3: List the Reasons Why You Make a Good Parent
It is not enough to prove someone else as an unfit parent. You have to prove that you can be a good parent and that being with you is in the best interest of your child. A judge does not look kindly on a parent who files for sole custody because he/she has a grudge against, or is competing with, the other parent. Things that will help your case are listed below.
- A steady schedule that fits well with your child’s routine
- A child-friendly environment and good living conditions
- Personal stability and healthy social relationships
- Active involvement in the life of your child (parent-teacher interactions, participation in extracurricular activities, etc.)
- Regard for the other parent’s relationship with the child
- Proof of good parenting skills (e.g., child discipline, care, etc.)
Step 4: Legal Process for Sole Child Custody
Filing for sole custody of a child requires a lot of your time, energy and money. Even then, there are very slim chances of getting a sole child custody. So if you are determined to get the sole custody of your child, the first thing you need to do is get a good, experienced attorney to fight your case. You can file for custody per se only if you have good knowledge about custody law or have someone to watch your back as far as the legalities are concerned. One wrong move on your part can cost you heavily in a family court. Advocate or no advocate, there are certain basic things you need to do.
- File for a social investigation and home study motion according to which the court will order an evaluation of houses of both the parents.
- File for a sole custody motion stating your reasons.
- Stress on the care and facilities your child will receive in your home.
- Do not badmouth the other parent at any point – this will only make you look vindictive.
- Give honest and true self-appraisal at all times.
- Because child custody laws vary from state to state, it becomes imperative to carefully study your state laws.
- Verify any advice you get, before following it through.
- Make sure to document all interactions with the court, attorney and/or any other person related to the custody proceedings.
- Send a copy of the relevant court documents to the other parent.
- Request a date for court hearing before leaving the court and be punctual for every court hearing.
- Follow all the court orders diligently and promptly.
- Notify the other parent on time (not too soon, nor too late) about the court hearing and keep a proof of the notification.
- Set your limits and know your boundaries so that you don’t come across as rash or inconsiderate.
- Be firm yet willing to negotiate on certain issues.
The cost of fighting a sole custody case is high. The social investigation and home study motion alone cost more than $10,000. If you are unable or unwilling to finance the whole custody proceedings on your own, you can request the court to split up the cost between you and the other parent. Also, sole custody case takes a considerable amount of time to conclude. Be prepared, patient and do not lose heart in the face of troubles (there will be many). Watch your step and ignore what anyone says to threaten, discourage or blackmail you.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Sole Child Custody
While having a sole custody might appeal a lot to you, getting one is not without its downside. In certain cases, a sole custody has been of tremendous benefit and in certain others, it has proved to be more of a curse. Some of the pros and cons of sole child custody are listed below.
- It protects a child from an abusive or unfit parent.
- It avoids confrontation of conflicting parents.
- It removes the child from harmful influence.
- It makes it easier for the parent with sole child custody to take decisions on the child’s behalf.
- It gives a child a steady and stable environment.
- It enables both the parents to move on in their respective lives without each other’s interference.
- There are no ‘double instructions’ for a child to follow.
- The parent with the custody rights is rid of guilt over separation from the child and hence is able to be a better parent to the child.
- It reduces the expense of maintaining two homes for a child.
- It alienates a child from one of the parents.
- One parent is left with little to no connection with his/her own child.
- One parent is burdened with the entire responsibility of the child.
Keeping the above points in mind, it is safe to say that sole custody should be sought for only if you are sure that the other parent will do more harm, than good to your child. No matter what kind of person he/she is, a child needs to know both the parents. Parental alienation, for any reason, will have strong repercussions in the present and the future of your child. That is why, even if a court were to grant sole child custody to one parent, the other parent would still have visitation rights (supervised if need be) and the custody rights can be revised when adequate changes are seen in his/her situation. In short, the well-being of your child should be your first priority and sole custody as a last resort.