How Does the Court Determine Sole Custody?

by Ball Morse Lowe on May 1, 2019


This month, we’re writing all about child custody to help you better understand the various processes and outcomes associated with it. We’ve already written posts about the different types of custody, from legal to physical to sole and joint.

To recap, physical custody refers to which guardian(s) is responsible for the actual, physical home and livelihood of the child or children, while legal refers to the legal aspects of a child’s life, such as where they attend school, their healthcare, and even their religious practice.

Aside from these two crucial types of custody, there are also various degrees of each, like joint or sole custody, with different kinds within these two as well. Today, we’re exploring sole custody, which refers to instances in which one parent gets total custody, legal or physical or both. Namely, we’re talking about why and how the court determines sole custody, and what cases might need it. Read on to be prepared in case of this outcome.

(If you need more detailed information about custody, download our free guide today)

Seeking Sole Custody

If the parents have decided that they are going to pursue joint custody because they believe they are both fit to be a guardian, the court will side with them most of the time, given that they both present valid cases. It’s unusual, but not uncommon, for the court to decide to give one parent sole custody when neither parent was seeking it.

However, it’s a different story if one or both parent(s) are seeking sole custody. In these situations, you should be prepared to make as strong a case as possible as to why you deserve sole custody. You’ll have to not only prove you are a good, responsible parent, but also that your partner is not one. This can obviously carry a lot of emotional weight, so you should be prepared with as much objective supporting information as possible.

Best Interests

While the court will review a lot of information, the first thing to know before any child custody case is that their number one priority is the best interest of the child or children. The court exists first and foremost to determine which parent or parents is best suited to care for the offspring.

This means the court will try as best they can to choose an outcome that gives the child or children the best chance at a good life. While each family is different, there are a variety of factors that can influence the court’s decision. There are certain documents and information the court can examine which can help to show them which parent is best suited to be a guardian.

The Primary Caretaker

One way the court determines who will give the child the best chance at a good life is by figuring out who they think is the “primary caretaker.” This is often the main factor in the court’s decision about who receives sole or majority custody. If the children are old enough, the court will also take their choice into consideration, but most courts try to avoid forcing a child to choose for obvious reasons.

The primary caretaker became important as psychologists studied childhood development and stressed the importance of the bond between a child and their parents, specifically in cases of separated or divorced parents. In a perfect world, children have equal if different bonds with both their divorced parents, but this is not always the case.

In determining which parent is the primary caretaker, the court will focus on which parent has the most direct responsibilities when it comes to the child or children. This means if one parent is working late hours while the other feeds and clothes the children, taking them to school and to healthcare appointments, the latter is more likely to be named the primary caretaker.

Your Options

Like we’ve mentioned not only in this post but also our other blog posts about custody, there are innumerable factors when it comes to the court’s decision. This can even include relatives such as grandparents or aunts and uncles who attempt to gain custody if they believe one or both parents are unfit to be guardian(s). The best way to navigate your options is to consult with a legal expert.

However, if you’re not ready to do that yet, there are still things you should know before proceeding. In most states, it’s extremely difficult for an unwed father to obtain custody if the mother is a good parent. This is why being the primary caretaker is important. Also, if you can’t get physical custody, unless you are deemed unfit, you will often still get shared legal custody – allowing you to help make important decisions about your child’s life – as well as visitation rights.

Feel free to contact us if you need any help or have more questions. The most important thing is being prepared before beginning your child custody process and knowing the possibilities. That’s why we’ve created this handy guide to help you get started.

The Process of Filing for Child Custody in Oklahoma