Cincinnati Family Law & Divorce Blog: What is the Difference Between Sole Custody and Shared Parenting?

In a divorce or dissolution involving minor children, or in the case of unmarried parents, the parties or the court must make a determination regarding the custody of the minor children. Custody can be allocated in two ways. First, one parent can be designated as the sole residential parent and legal custodian of the children. In this scenario, the custodial parent retains the right to make all major decisions regarding the children, including but not limited to educational, medical, religious and disciplinary issues. The non-custodial parent is still entitled to parenting time with the children, including regular parenting time, holidays and vacation time. Additionally the non-custodial parent is entitled to equal access to the children’s school and medical records.


The alternative option is Shared Parenting. Under a Shared Parenting Plan, both parents are designated as the legal custodian and residential parents of the children. The most important factor to understand about Shared Parenting is that both parents must jointly make all major decisions regarding the children, including but not limited to educational, medical, religious, disciplinary, etc., unless otherwise stated in the parties’ Shared Parenting Plan. When the parents have shared parenting, the children are permitted to attend school in either parent’s school district. If the parties are unable to reach a consensus on any matter regarding their children, prior to seeking an order from the court, they must attend mediation in order to attempt to resolve the matter. A Shared Parenting Plan requires that both parents communicate and cooperate together to address their children’s needs. For the most part, shared parenting is favored in Ohio. This preference stems from the belief that it is better for the minor children if both parents are involved in raising them. However, there are cases where shared parenting is not appropriate. For example, if there is a history of one parent of substance abuse or if there is a history of domestic violence, shared parenting may not be appropriate. However, each determination is made on a case by case basis.


A common misconception about Shared Parenting is that it automatically entitles each parent to an equal division of parenting time. Rather, the allocation of parenting time varies in each particular case and is not dictated by the custodial designation. A non-residential parent may have 50/50 parenting time, and a parent in a Shared Parenting Plan, may have parenting time every other weekend or vice versa. The differentiating factor between the two options is how decisions regarding the children are made.


Another misconception is that if parties have Shared Parenting, neither parent will pay child support. However, this is not accurate either. Rather, as explained in another blog post, child support is determined on a case by case basis and is not determined solely by the custodial designation.