Sole Custody vs. Shared Parenting

If sole physical and legal custody is awarded, that parent gains has substantially more physical time and has the ability to make final decisions for the couple's child.1 The "custodial parent" typically has much more control over parenting decisions, from day-to-day parenting choices to deciding where and how a child will be educated.2 These arrangements are most common when the parents live far apart, do not communicate well, or when one parent has been deemed unfit.3 Though the child will usually live most of the time with the parent who has sole custody, visitation schedules and parenting plans will provide for time with the other parent.4

In a shared parenting arrangement, on the other hand, both parents share decision making responsibility for the child.5 In some states, both parents will be designated as the "residential parent and legal custodian."6 Under most shared parenting agreements, parenting time is shared more equally which may also result in a proportional decrease in child support payments.7

Often, the terms shared parenting and joint custody are used interchangeably.8 However, in a true joint custody situation, both parents split parenting time in roughly proportionate shares, which can be difficult for both children and parents in some instances in terms of scheduling and logistics.9 Shared parenting, however, generally does not require a fifty-fifty split in parenting time.10 Though more equal parenting time is common, one of the primary attributes of shared parenting is the right to share equally in decisions regarding the child.11

Several state laws presume that shared parenting is in the best interests of the child.12 All states allow for shared parenting plans when both parents seek them and the court approves.13 For shared parenting to work, both parents should be able to communicate well with each other in order to make mutual decisions about their child.14


[1] Findlaw, Shared Parenting vs. Sole Custody (2015), http://family.findlaw.com/paternity/shared-parenting-vs-sole-custody.html (last visited Aug 26, 2015).

[2] Id.

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] Id.

[6] Id.

[7] Id.

[8] Id.

[9] Id.

[10] Id.

[11] Id.

[12] Id.

[13] Id.

[14] Id.