Is Sole or Joint Custody Right for Your Child?

Sole Custody vs Joint Custody

When parents separate or divorce, one of the most difficult decisions they face is determining custody arrangements for their children. Should one parent be granted sole physical and legal custody? Or is joint custody more appropriate? 

There’s no one “right” solution – every family is different. But in our experience, examining both joint custody and sole custody with an open mind is important. Joint physical and legal custody keeps kids connected to both parents, which is often beneficial. But, sole custody offers consistency in certain situations.

An experienced child custody lawyer can walk parents through the pros and cons of each so they can decide what fits their family’s unique needs. 

Defining Joint Custody and Sole Custody

Joint custody involves sharing both physical and legal custody of a child between parents. Physical custody means splitting where the child lives, while legal custody involves dividing up responsibility for making important decisions about education, health care, religion, and more.

Sole physical custody grants the child’s primary residence to one parent, while the other parent typically has visitation rights. Sole legal custody gives one parent exclusive authority over major decisions regarding the child’s welfare.

It’s common for parents to blend different types of custody. For example, you may share legal custody, but one parent may have primary physical custody. Don’t assume “full” custody means sole decision-making power – look closely at what is shared versus exclusive.

Which Custody Arrangement is Right for Your Family?

Rather than defaulting straight to sole custody, look at your unique circumstances to determine if joint custody could work. 

Factors to weigh include:

  • Your child’s age and needs – infants often stay primarily with one parent, while older kids can better transition between homes
  • Your work and life schedule flexibility – frequent transitions require availability
  • Geographic distance between parents – joint physical custody becomes less feasible if parents live far apart
  • Communication skills and respect between co-parents – cooperation is essential
  • History of domestic abuse – safety concerns may rule out shared custody

There’s no perfect age or formula. Each family’s dynamics are different. If joint custody aligns with your child’s best interests, it offers benefits over sole custody. But, sole custody does provide continuity benefits in certain situations; we’ll explore more below.

Joint Custody Benefits and Challenges

When parents can cooperate, joint custody offers many advantages, like:

  • Maintaining close relationships with both parents
  • Adjusting smoothly between two homes
  • Reducing feelings of loss or abandonment due to separation

However, joint custody presents some challenges, including:

  • Requiring frequent communication and collaboration between parents
  • It can be impractical if parents live very far apart
  • May allow one parent to skirt child support obligations

Willingness to compromise and comfort with consistent coordination are musts for joint custody success. Don’t underestimate the logistical planning involved.

When Sole Custody May Be Necessary

There are certainly situations where sole custody is in the child’s best interests, such as:

  • Concerns about domestic abuse or substance addiction
  • An absentee or completely uninvolved parent
  • A child with special needs requiring one consistent home
  • Parental relationships involving high conflict and power struggles
  • Long distance preventing realistic joint physical custody

In these cases, sole custody may provide needed consistency and security. But in some cases, the non-custodial parent may still deserve reasonable visitation, barring safety issues – cutting them out of a child’s life has consequences.

Keeping Your Child at the Center

In the end, whether you pursue joint or sole custody should come down to what works for your family dynamics and serves your child’s needs best. Getting caught up in labels like “full custody” loses sight of what matters – your child’s well-being and relationships.

Rather than arguing over exclusive control, talk through how you can structure custody arrangements focused on:

  • Maximizing time with both fit, loving parents
  • Providing a reliable schedule and transitions
  • Promoting your child’s growth and resilience

This mindset creates space for compromise if joint custody is feasible. 

An experienced family law attorney can advise what custody specifics make sense for your situation while reminding you to keep perspective. Don’t hesitate to reach out to discuss your options in-depth. By making informed choices, you put your child on solid ground.

Submitting Your SC Parenting Plan for Joint or Sole Custody

Under Section 63-15-220 of South Carolina law, parents must develop and submit parenting plans to the court in contested child custody cases. 

These plans outline:

  • How parenting time will be divided between the parents
  • Where the child will reside
  • Who will make major decisions about education, health care, activities, etc.

For temporary hearings, each parent must file their own proposed plan reflecting their preferences. Or the parents can jointly submit one plan if agreed.

The court will consider these plans when issuing both temporary and final custody orders. However, failure to submit a parenting plan does not prevent the court from ordering custody.

How Judges Decide on SC Child Custody Cases

Ideally, you and your ex would be able to sit down and amicably hash out a parenting plan outlining physical custody, legal custody, and other details that protect your child’s best interests. 

But for many families, cooperative co-parenting just isn’t possible. When disputes arise, South Carolina family courts step in to decide custody.

When deciding custody in South Carolina, judges must determine what arrangement is in the “best interest of the child.” 

They will consider statutory factors like:

  • Child’s needs and temperament
  • Parental ability to meet the child’s needs
  • Child’s custody preferences
  • Each parent’s custody wishes
  • The child’s existing relationships with parents, siblings, others
  • Parental efforts to encourage child’s relationships
  • Manipulative or coercive behavior by a parent
  • Disparaging remarks by a parent about the other
  • Each parent’s involvement in the child’s life
  • Child’s adjustment to home, school, community
  • Stability of current and proposed households
  • Mental and physical health of all involved
  • The child’s cultural and spiritual background
  • Past abuse or neglect of the child
  • Domestic violence or child abuse by a parent
  • Recent long-distance relocation by a parent
  • Any other relevant factors

Judges typically won’t grant sole custody unless there are compelling concerns like proven parental unfitness or clear evidence the arrangement would be detrimental. Otherwise, there is a preference for joint custody.

Existing custody orders can be modified by going back to court if circumstances substantially change. But regardless of current arrangements, focusing on open communication and flexibility serves your child best.

Call Okoye Law Today to Explore Your Custody Questions

We know these custody decisions weigh heavily. You want what’s truly best for your child, but it’s hard to think clearly in the midst of a separation. 

Please reach out to our office for guidance tailored to your unique needs. We’ve walked many parents through considering if sole or joint custody is the right fit. We’re here to help you, too. Contact us today to go over your questions in a case evaluation – let’s figure this out together.

Author Bio

rock hill criminal defense family and personal injury lawyers

Colin Okoye is the CEO and Managing Partner of Okoye Law, a Rock Hill, SC,  criminal defense, personal injury, and family law firm. With years of experience, he has zealously represented clients in various legal matters, including DUI charges, divorce cases, and car accidents.

Colin received his Juris Doctor from the Charlotte School of Law and is a South Carolina Bar Association member. His previous experience working as an Assistant Public Defender in the Sixteenth Judicial Circuit has equipped him with the necessary skills and knowledge to represent clients in a wide range of cases effectively.

LinkedIn | State Bar Association | Avvo | Google