How Often Does One Parent Get Sole Custody of Their Children in a Custody Case?

Good question. 

A generation or two ago, it was all but unheard of for parents to be awarded joint physical custody of their children. It was literally unthinkable in the minds of most legislatures, judges, and lawyers. Back then, married couples consisted exclusively of a man and a woman, and most children of married couples had a stay at home parent (almost always their mother). It was believed back then that the children needed to reside with the parent who does not work outside the home. 

As a result, when a mother and father divorced, custody of the children was awarded to one parent, and that parent was the mother. Fathers were awarded what was known as “visitation” and what is still known as visitation in some jurisdictions and in others it is now known as “parent-time”. Visitation and parent-time were typically restricted to every other weekend with Dad (usually Friday evening to Sunday evening) and dividing holidays with Mom, so they each spent every other Christmas, Thanksgiving, Labor Day, etc. with their kids. 

Around the 1980s, however, a “radical” new idea was starting to attract attention and gain some momentum: joint physical custody, also known as “shared parenting”. This movement was started by loving fathers who were just as capable as parents as their children’s mothers who were fed up with being relegated to the status of a “visitor” of their own children. These fathers were tired of being treated as second-class parents and concerned by the adverse effects the minimal time they were “allowed” with their own children were having on the father-child relationship. More divorces and more women in the workplace helped facilitate the movement as well. 

It’s taken 40 years, but now the idea of joint custody and shared parenting is not only not considered weird or radical, it’s becoming the norm. I say “becoming” because there is still a surprisingly large number of lawyers and judges in the legal profession who oppose joint custody and shared parenting. Those who do are living in the past and cling to outmoded and debunked theories of what’s best for children. When children, even infant children, are reared as much as possible by both of their loving, capable parents, the evidence is clear that they do better than in a sole custody situation. 

Joint custody and shared parenting is not feasible in every child custody situation, no one can credibly argue anymore that the presumptively best thing for children of two fit and loving parents is sole custody. Still, many parents (again, mostly the fathers, but some mothers too) who can and want to exercise joint custody often find themselves having to fight for joint custody and shared parenting not because the facts don’t support them but because of the judge’s personal biases against joint custody and because of their beliefs that mothers are better, more necessary parents than fathers. The fight, unfortunately for many (too many), still goes on when it shouldn’t. 

Utah Family Law, LC | | 801-466-9277  

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