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When to seek sole custody after divorce

Apr 14, 2021 | Child Custody, Children and Divorce, Divorce, Separation and Divorce

When children are involved in a difficult divorce it’s natural to desire sole custody but it’s always important to examine the reasons behind that desire. It’s important to consider what your child needs not only now but in the future.

If you truly believe sole custody is a good idea in your case, the first step is always taking that opinion to your former spouse. If you can get their support, a judge is more likely to support the plan as well. Without support from your former spouse, it may be a tough legal battle.

A parent with sole custody has their child live with them full time and has full decision-making power.  The other parent may have visits with the child unless a court decides to end those visits or require supervision.

Here are a few reasons to seek full custody:

Physical or Sexual Abuse:

If your former spouse has a history of abuse or assault against you or your child, then you should seek to have sole legal decision-making and you should ask the court to order you to be the child’s primary residential parent, with only supervised visits for the abusive parent.

Substance Abuse

If the other parent has a history of substance abuse or alcoholism, a judge may grant sole custody (sole legal decision-making) and may order you to be the primary residential parent. In these cases it’s important to come prepared to court with any documentation that can support your claim.


Neglect is the failure to provide necessities a child cannot provide themselves like medical care, dental care, supervision, clothes, food or shelter. If a parent has failed to provide a child with these important necessities in the past, while the child was in their care, that can put the child at risk. Neglect is grounds to seek sole custody. Often neglect is a result of untreated mental illness. If a parent has a diagnosis but refuses treatment, they may be a danger to a child.


A judge may also grant sole legal decision-making and exclusive or supervised parenting time when a parent refuses to take care of their child or has shown little interest in being involved in the child’s life. It’s a good idea to seek sole custody early in these cases in the event that your former spouse later decides to try to get more involved in the child’s life.

Physical Separation:

A child may also be separated from a parent who is incarcerated. You do not have to take your child to visit a parent in prison, unless ordered by the court, but parents who have been incarcerated might be granted visits after their release. The incarceration of the other parent is grounds for seeking sole custody.

A judge may consider multiple factors when deciding legal decision-making and parenting time. The judge will consider the age of the child, the wishes of the child (if the child is old enough), the mental and physical health of the parents, any sibling relationships, and the child’s relationship with the parents. In court, decisions are made based on the courtroom demeanor and credibility of the parents, as well as the evidence that is presented to the court.

Custody should never be used as a tool to punish a former spouse. These decisions need to be made in the best interest of the child involved. An experienced attorney can help guide you through the process of making a custody agreement that both parties can agree on and can help you prepare your case for court.

Pangerl Law Firm P.L.L.C. focuses on divorce, child custody, mother’s and father’s rights, child support, and all other areas of family law, as well as personal injury claims. Our office is located in Deer Valley and serves the greater Phoenix area, including the communities of Scottsdale, Peoria, Glendale, Cave Creek, Avondale, Goodyear, Surprise, Mesa, Tempe, Anthem, New River, North Phoenix and Phoenix. For more information, call: 602-942-6200.