Child custody refers to the legal and practical relationship between a child and a parent or guardian. Custody is generally determined in the event of a divorce or legal separation. State laws regarding child custody vary by jurisdiction, although the overall standard for child custody decisions is the child’s best interests standard. The needs of the child, and what would be in their best interests, are placed above the parent’s preferences. Additionally, family courts will only make child custody decisions if those decisions best benefit the child.

Although there are different types of child custody arrangements, the two types that a family court will generally consider are full custody, and joint custody. Simply put, full custody refers to one parent being designated the primary custodial parent; that parent has the majority of the custody time, as well as legal rights regarding the child. Joint custody refers to an arrangement in which both of the child’s parents split physical custody of the child, with one parent possibly retaining legal custody.

Full custody is an arrangement in which only one parent assumes all of the responsibilities associated with caring for and raising their child. Full custody may be granted to the primary custodial parent when the following situations are present:

  • One parent has become ill, disabled, or otherwise incapacitated;
  • The court has determined that the other parent is unfit to raise a child;
  • The other parent has been incarcerated, or has a considerably negative criminal record; and/or
  • There is a history of abuse or neglect by the other parent.

When a parent is awarded full custody, it means that they are the only parent entrusted with both legal and physical custody. However, full custody does not necessarily mean that the other parent has no visitation rights at all. In some full custody cases, the non custodial parent could have some short periods of visitation with their child. Full custody and sole custody are often used interchangeably, although there are some differences between the two custody arrangements. An example of this would be how sole custody generally means that the non custodial parent was not awarded any visitation or custody rights at all.

It is common for the non-custodial parent to be required to assist in the child’s upbringing by providing monthly child support payments. However, this depends on the factors present in each individual case.

What Is the Process of Getting Full Custody of a Child? What Are Some Tips on How to Get Full Custody of My Child?

As previously mentioned, courts will generally only award full custody rights under specific circumstances, such as one parent being unfit or physically unable to care for their child. Generally speaking, it is in the child’s best interest to maintain an equal relationship with both parents.

In a full custody arrangement, only one parent is entrusted with responsibilities of both physical and legal custody. Physical custody refers to the periods of time in which the child is staying or living with the parent. The parent would then be responsible for matters such as:

  • Food;
  • Clothing;
  • Shelter;
  • Educational matters; and
  • Other related expenses.

Legal custody refers to the parent’s responsibilities in terms of making various legal decisions on behalf of the child.

A full custody arrangement may also grant some visitation rights. An example of this would be how the noncustodial parent may have some short periods of visitation with the child. They may only be assuming physical custody for a short while, but the custodial parent still retains legal custody of their child. Full custody can be much more demanding when compared to other forms of custody such as shared or split custody. This is largely due to the fact that the custodial parent is essentially assuming all responsibility for their child.

Full custody is not granted simply because one parent requests it. Rather, full custody is only granted if the family court determines that it will truly benefit the child. If you would like to obtain full custody of your child or children, some tips to consider when petitioning the court include:

  • Be prepared to provide documentation, as you may need proof that you have the capability of raising the child on your own. This could include bank account statements, as well as other financial statements;
  • Do not intentionally falsify or exaggerate any information simply to obtain custody. This would be a violation of court laws, and can lead to being held in contempt of court or other criminal charges; and
  • While it is necessary to point out important differences between the two parties, it is never prudent to belittle, make fun of, or insult the opposing parties.

If full custody is not an option, there may be other suitable alternatives, such as:

  • Legal guardianship;
  • Shared or joint custody; or
  • Planned visitation.

How Is Custody Determined?

To reiterate, the determining factor in any child custody case is the child’s best interests. Most consider the following factors in order to determine custody decisions:

  • The child’s background, including their sex assigned at birth, age, and personal health characteristics;
  • Children with special needs or disabilities may be used to a certain home, and accustomed to a parent who provides daily specialized care;
  • If the child is at least 12-14 years old, many jurisdictions will consider the child’s preferences;
  • Environmental factors, such as the quality of education in each parent’s school district, the safety of each neighborhood, and proximity to other extracurricular activities;
  • The physical and mental health of each parent;
  • Each parent’s ability to provide emotional and financial support for the child while the child is in their care;
  • The stability of each parent’s lifestyle and background;
  • The existence and level of attachment to other siblings, or important family members in the home; and
  • Each parent’s commitment to facilitating an ongoing and healthy relationship between the child and the other parent.

Child custody determinations are generally finalized into a formal child custody order, once the family court finalizes the decisions made. To obtain a custody order, you will need to petition the family court in connection with the divorce or legal separation proceeding. If there are any questions associated with paternity, they can be resolved at that time. In some jurisdictions, if the parents are unmarried, the mother is issued primary custody initially until the father petitions the court to be awarded custody and visitation. 

If the person seeking custody is not the child’s parent, they may seek a non-parent custodial order. An example of this would be if a grandparent wished to obtain custody of their grandchild.

Is It Necessary to Hire a Lawyer for Help with Custody Matters?

If you are experiencing issues related to your child custody order, or wish to petition the court for a specific type of custody, you should consult with an experienced and local child custody lawyer. As previously mentioned, much of family law including how child custody is determined varies from state to state. 

An attorney will be best suited to helping you understand your parental rights and legal options according to the laws set by your specific state. Your child custody attorney will also be able to represent you in court, as needed.