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Divorced parents with their son visiting lawyer discussing child custody

Sole Custody vs. Joint Custody

Curiale Hostnik PLLC June 5, 2024

When parents who share children are faced with a divorce or separation, they have to address the complicated and deeply emotional matter of child custody. The custody arrangement you choose (or the court chooses for you) will dictate your involvement in your child’s life for years to come.  

Depending on your circumstances, you or the other parent may be awarded sole custody or both you and the other parent can share responsibilities for raising your kids with joint custody. Given the serious nature of custody-related decisions, you need to understand what each type of custody entails and what it means for your future relationship with the children.  

If you are contemplating or going through a divorce or separation, our child custody attorneys in Puyallup, Washington, can help. At Curiale Hostnik PLLC, it is our goal to help you develop a custody arrangement that will allow you to forge a meaningful relationship with your child. We handle family law matters for clients in Puyallup, and other cities throughout Pierce County, including Tacoma, Lakewood, Gig Harbor, University Place, Bonney Lake, Spanaway, and Sumner.  

What Is Sole Custody? 

Sole custody is a legal arrangement where one parent has exclusive rights and responsibilities regarding their child's upbringing. It can be divided into two categories: physical custody and legal custody. 

  • Physical sole custody. Physical sole custody means that the child resides with one parent all the time. This parent is responsible for providing daily care, including housing, food, and other necessities. The non-custodial parent may be granted visitation rights, but these visits are typically scheduled and may be supervised, depending on the circumstances. 

  • Legal sole custody. Legal sole custody grants one parent the exclusive authority to make major decisions about the child's life. These decisions can encompass various aspects, including education, healthcare, religion, and extracurricular activities. The custodial parent has no obligation to ask the non-custodial parent’s opinion when making these decisions. This can streamline the decision-making process, but it also places a considerable amount of responsibility on one parent.  

Sole custody is generally granted in situations where one parent is deemed unfit due to reasons such as substance abuse, domestic violence, or mental illness. Courts prioritize the child's safety and well-being, and if one parent poses a risk, sole custody may be more appropriate than joint custody. 

What Is Joint Custody? 

Joint custody, on the other hand, is an arrangement where both parents share the rights and responsibilities of raising their child. Similar to sole custody, joint custody can be divided into two categories: physical custody and legal custody. 

  • Physical joint custody. In a physical joint custody arrangement, the child spends substantial time living with both parents. This can be structured in various ways, such as alternating weeks, months, or certain days of the week. The goal is to ensure that the child maintains a strong relationship with both parents and benefits from being involved in each of their parent’s daily lives. 

  • Legal joint custody. Legal joint custody means that both parents share the authority to make major decisions about the child's upbringing. This requires effective communication and cooperation between the parents to ensure that they reach mutual agreements on important matters. While this can be a challenge for some divorced or separated parents, it allows both parents to have an active role in shaping their child's future. 

Joint custody is often considered when both parents are capable and willing to cooperate in raising their child. Courts typically favor joint custody as it encourages the involvement of both parents, which is generally seen as beneficial for the child's emotional and psychological development. 

What's the Difference Between Sole and Joint Custody? 

If you are trying to decide on the custody arrangement, understanding the differences between sole and joint custody is crucial to ensure the best outcome for your child’s future. Here’s an overview of the five key differences between these two types of custody.  

Decision-Making Authority 

The most prominent difference between sole and joint custody lies in decision-making authority. In sole custody, one parent has the exclusive right to make important decisions about the child's life. In joint custody, both parents share this responsibility and must collaborate to reach decisions together. 

Living Arrangements 

Physical custody determines where the child will live. In sole physical custody, the child resides primarily with one parent, whereas in joint physical custody, the child alternates between both parents' homes. The latter arrangement aims to facilitate a balanced relationship with both parents. At one point, a divorced parent may want to move to another city, state, or country, and take their children with them. However, relocation with children after the divorce requires careful consideration and legal guidance.  

Parental Involvement 

Joint custody promotes active involvement from both parents in the child's life, which can provide a more balanced and supportive environment. Sole custody, while sometimes necessary, can limit the non-custodial parent's involvement and impact the child's relationship with that parent. 

Flexibility and Communication 

Joint custody requires a high level of cooperation and communication between parents. This can be challenging, especially if the relationship between the parents is strained. Sole custody, on the other hand, may reduce conflict by placing decision-making authority in the hands of one parent, but it also places a heavy burden on that individual. 

Impact on the Child 

The impact of custody arrangements on the child is a critical consideration. Joint custody can offer the child a sense of stability and security, knowing that both parents are actively involved. However, it also requires the child to adapt to two different households, which can be demanding. Sole custody can provide a more stable living environment but may limit the child's relationship with the non-custodial parent. 

Not Sure Which Custody Arrangement Is Right for You? 

If you are divorcing or separating from your child’s other parent, you need to understand what types of custody are available to you. Since everyone’s situation is unique, you might need to consult with an attorney to determine what custody arrangement is best for you and your children. At Curiale Hostnik PLLC, our child custody attorneys in Puyallup, Washington, can answer your questions and help you choose between sole custody or joint custody arrangements for your circumstances. Contact our office today to schedule a case review.