In a previous blog, I discussed the difference between physical and legal custody, which differentiated between having the child live with you and having the right to make decisions for the child. In this article, we will be discussing the difference between sole custody and joint custody, both of which encompass the physical and legal custody of the child, or children, as well.

Sole Custody: One parent can have either sole physical custody, or can have sole legal custody of the children. This is not a popular outcome in most divorce cases, as it often alienates one parent from the child and prevents them from playing any role in the child’s life. Unfortunately, there are some cases where a parent will be awarded sole custody if the court deems the other parent unfit to take care of the child to any extent. Be it a drug or alcohol problem, or a history or tendency of being abusive or neglectful toward the child, there are some situations when a child needs to be kept away from one of their parents. But, as I said earlier, it isn’t as common for courts to award sole custody anymore. In fact, even if one parent is given sole physical custody, meaning the child mainly lives with them, both parents will often share joint legal custody, and moreover, the parent who isn’t given custody is allowed liberal visitation time.

In this scenario, the parents have an equal say in the decisions regarding the child, or children’s, life, but again, one parent is deemed to be the primary parental guardian that the child lives with.

There is no doubt that children do better with two parental figures in their life than one, so unless there is a real need to keep your ex-spouse away from the child, it’s best not to seek sole custody.

Joint Custody: When spouses who live together but share both the physical and executive custody of the child, it is known as joint custody. Joint custody doesn’t have to come after the parents get divorced; you can file for joint custody if you and your spouse are getting separated, or simply aren’t living together anymore. This is a much more common option that courts will exercise when deciding the living situation of the child. There is usually a schedule that is set up, along with housing accommodations that suit the child’s needs. Common arrangements are alternating months, six-month stays, sometimes even a year with one parent, it depends on what the parents decide.

And if the parents can’t come to an agreement, the court will decide for them. However, like everything in life, there are cons to joint custody. The child is moving around constantly, and there is a lack of a sense of a true “home,” and it can be expensive to have for both parents to maintain and own a home. The role of the parent here is to make the most of an unfortunate situation that the child never asked for in the first place.