In legal terms, child custody refers to the legal and physical relationship between a child and their divorced parent, or legal guardian. Laws governing child custody vary by jurisdiction, but all decisions regarding child custody are made with the child’s best interests in mind. 

The child’s interests, background, and needs are considered above the parent’s personal preferences. This means that courts will only make child custody decisions if they benefit the child.

Legal custody refers to a parent being granted the legal right and obligation to make decisions on behalf of their child, and regarding the child’s upbringing. Such decisions could include the child’s education, medical care, and religious upbringing. Physical custody refers to the right to have the child physically live with you. 

Some states do recognize joint or shared physical custody, in which the child lives with each parent for relatively equal amounts of time. There are other types of child custody arrangements as well. However, all types of custody arrangements concern some form of legal custody and physical custody.

Partial custody refers to a type of child custody arrangement in which one parent has less physical custody time with the child in comparison to the other parent. Such an arrangement differs from sole custody and shared custody arrangements in that one parent is the custodial parent, i.e. the parent granted the majority of time spent with the child, while the non custodial parent is granted limited custody or visitation rights. A partial custody arrangement is generally ordered in cases where one parent is unable to assume any major responsibility for their child.

How is Partial Custody of a Child Obtained?

In cases in which one parent has full custody and the non custodial parent wishes to file for partial custody, the court will consider whether this change in custody arrangement is in the child’s best interest. If you wish to obtain partial custody of your child, the following steps are typically necessary:

  • File a Petition With the Court: You will need to file a petition with the family law court that originally handled your child custody case. Partial custody rights are not automatically granted, and must be requested of and granted by the court;
  • Provide Evidence to the Court: In order to prove your case for partial custody of your child, you will need to prove to the court that you are mentally and financially capable of caring for your child.
    • Some examples of suitable evidence could include financial statements, proof of employment, witness statements, and records of good behavior; and
  • Speak With an Attorney: As custody laws vary from state to state, and petitioning for custody is a complex and involved process, you should consult with a skilled attorney in your area. They will be best suited to advise you in reaching your child custody goals.

If you are seeking a partial child custody arrangement, and there is already a child custody order in place, you will need to file for a child custody order modification. A custody modification could affect other aspects of the pre existing arrangement, such as child or spousal support.

How Can I Modify an Existing Child Custody Order?

Obtaining partial child custody after a child custody arrangement has already been ordered requires a modification of the order. A child custody order addresses the type of child custody, and provides a child visitation schedule in order to allow the non custodial parent to spend time with their child. Once the order is in place, it is absolutely imperative that both parents adhere to the order, so as to avoid being held in contempt of court.

A court order may be more easily modified if both parents agree to such an arrangement. This is especially important in jurisdictions in which there is a required waiting period before a modification can be permitted, and there is no evidence that the child is in immediate danger that would warrant an immediate modification. 

Before deciding whether to grant a modification, such as granting partial custody, the court may order an evaluation by a social worker. Alternatively, the court may order mandatory mediation sessions between the two parties.

In general, it must be proven that a change in custody arrangement would be in the child’s best interest. A court may decide to modify a child custody order when there has been a significant or material change in circumstances since the initial issuing of the order. Some examples of such circumstances could include:

  • One parent wishes to move long distance which would make the current visitation schedule impractical;
  • The non requesting parent has created an unsafe home environment for the child;
  • The child’s emotional or developmental needs have changed; and/or
  • The non requesting parent has repeatedly ignored the visitation schedule.

Do I Need an Attorney to Obtain Custody?

As can be seen, in order to obtain partial child custody, you must first request custody. Alternatively, you may obtain partial custody of a child by requesting a modification of a previous court order. 

In either situation, consulting with a skilled and knowledgeable child custody attorney is important so that you understand your state’s specific laws regarding child custody. 

An experienced child custody attorney can help determine your legal options, and your best course of legal action. Finally, an attorney can file any necessary legal documents, and represent you in court as needed.