Divorce is a challenging and emotional process, which, unfortunately, custody arrangements often complicate further. One question frequently asked by clients of Berman Voss is: When is sole custody granted in Pennsylvania divorce cases? Read this blog and reach out to the dedicated Pennsylvania child custody lawyers at Berman Voss to learn more.

What is Sole Custody and How Does It Differ from Joint Custody?

Sole custody refers to one parent having exclusive legal and physical custody of the child. Legal custody involves making significant decisions about the child’s life, while physical custody determines where the child lives. In joint custody, both parents share these responsibilities. Pennsylvania law, under 23 Pa.C.S. § 5323, addresses these custody types. That said, though sole custody is less common than joint custody, it is granted under certain specific circumstances.

Under What Circumstances Is Sole Custody Granted?

This type of custody is generally considered a last resort and is only granted in circumstances where the court finds it necessary to protect the best interests of the child. Some scenarios where this type of custody might be awarded are as follows:

  • Abuse or Neglect: If there is evidence that one parent has abused or neglected the child, the court may determine that granting sole custody to the other parent is essential for the child’s safety and well-being. This includes physical, emotional, or sexual abuse, and neglect in terms of providing necessary care and supervision.
  • Substance Abuse: A parent’s struggle with substance abuse can severely impair their ability to provide a safe and stable environment for the child. If a parent has a history of drug or alcohol abuse, and there is no evidence of rehabilitation, the court may award sole custody to the other parent.
  • Mental Health Issues: Severe mental health issues that affect a parent’s ability to care for the child can also be a reason for granting sole custody. The court will consider medical records, expert testimony, and other relevant information to assess the impact of the parent’s mental health on their parenting capabilities.
  • Parental Alienation: If one parent is actively working to alienate the child from the other parent, the court may see this as detrimental to the child’s emotional and psychological health. In such cases, sole custody might be awarded to the parent who is more likely to support a healthy relationship between the child and both parents.

Importantly, courts prefer to award joint physical and legal custody when possible, as this helps promote stability for the child. However, ultimately, if the court determines it would not be in the child’s best interest to award a joint custody arrangement, they may award sole custody.

If you have further questions or are facing a divorce or any family law issue, please don’t hesitate to contact Berman Voss today.