Courts typically use sole custody only in extreme situations. The preference is for shared custody. That does not mean a 50/50 split. For instance, the children may live with their mother during the week and their father on the weekends. But, even when divided unequally, that is still shared custody.
The reasoning is that the courts want to have both parents involved. What would make them deviate from that? Why would they opt to use sole custody and award it to just one parent?
The court always looks out for the child’s well-being. They will use sole custody if they think that one parent is unfit to be a parent or incapable of providing for even the basic needs of the child. They will also do so if they think that one parent may put the child in danger.
For instance, a parent with a serious mental condition, who refuses to take their medication, may not get custody rights because they cannot raise the child on their own. A parent who has a history of domestic violence may not get custody because the child would be in physical danger. A parent with an addiction to drugs or alcohol may not get custody because, while engaging in those addictions, they may not be able to provide proper care.
Even in sole custody situations, the other parent may get visitation rights. If the court decides that they should not be alone with the child, then they may get to use supervised visitation.
Child custody cases are often emotional and sometimes contentious. In abuse cases, there could also be a criminal component. It’s important to know your rights.