What Does Full Custody Mean?

When it comes to the definition of full custody, it really depends on where you live and your individual state’s legal terminology. It could mean that you have both legal and physical custody, but in some states it’s called either sole legal custody or sole physical custody. If you don’t know which one you want, you should consult with a family law attorney in your state to ensure you are using the right terminology in court.

Legal Custody

If the court gives you full legal custody, you have the right to make all decisions for your child without any input from your ex-spouse. These decisions include things like religion, education, and medical treatment. 

The decisions do not include day-to-day decisions like whether or not your child can go to a party. Those decisions will be the responsibility of the parent your child is residing with on that day. 

Additionally, in some states, full custody only refers to legal custody and does not take into account which parent your child lives with the majority of the time.

Physical Custody

Physical custody is a reference to which parent your child stays with most nights over the course of a year. If you receive full physical custody, your ex-spouse may have visitation rights.

In some states, you have joint physical custody if your spouse has parenting or visitation rights. In other states, having joint physical custody means that your child will have an equal amount of overnights with each parent.

If you decide to seek full custody of your child, you should be prepared for an uphill climb. Full custody is different than joint custody because full custody gives you legal and physical custody as opposed to both you and your ex-spouse.

When considering asking the court for full custody, you should make sure your motives are for a good reason. If you only seek to punish your ex-spouse, that is not a proper motive. However, if you believe your ex-spouse is not fit to share custody of your child, that may be a good motive – but you better be able to prove the reasons why in court.

In general, most family courts agree that joint custody is usually in the best interest of the child. This arrangement allows your child the benefit of seeing both you and their other parent on a regular basis.

Factors Considered to Win Full Custody

In your state, full custody may be referred to as sole custody. In a full custody agreement, the child will live with one parent, and the other parent will have liberal visitation rights. 

There are many factors that a judge will consider in making their decision. If you want to win full custody of your child, there are certain ways you should behave while you’re in court. They include:

  • Demeanor in Court: The judge may, in part, determine your fitness for full custody by how you behave in court. If you want full custody, you should go out of your way to avoid interruption and maintain your composure and avoid angry outbursts.
  • Dressing for Court: The court may also consider how you dress when appearing in court. Remember, you’re entering a court of law, not running errands. You should wear dark suits or dresses, not casual clothing. 
  • Best Interest of the Child: A court will always look at what’s in the best interest of your child. You and your family law attorney should be ready to give very clear reasons why joint custody would not be in the best interest of your child. A judge may consider how prepared you are when you come to court. They may consider whether or not you have an attorney or whether you have valid documentation to support your position for full custody.

While you may think it unfair that the court may use the above factors to decide full custody of your child, there’s not a lot you can do to change the above guidelines, and you should follow them if you want the best shot possible to win full custody of your child.

Circumstances for Sole Custody and Legal Custody

Many family courts believe that your child can only benefit from being able to spend time with you and your ex-spouse. Some family courts in the United States prefer to award joint custody instead of full or sole legal and physical custody to one parent.

However, joint custody may not be appropriate for your individual situation, and there are reasons why it would be in the best interest of your child for you to have sole legal custody. They include, but aren’t limited to:

  • Abuse: If your ex-spouse has a history of violence, domestic abuse, or sexual abuse, and has been abusive to you and/or your child, this is obviously a danger to your child, and they should be protected from being physically harmed in any way.
  • Neglect: If your ex-spouse has a history of neglecting your child, it’s extremely likely that this neglectful behavior will continue into the future. Neglect could mean that your ex-spouse isn’t providing your child with dental or medical care, proper supervision, enough food, appropriate clothing, shelter, and anything else that protects your child’s emotional and physical health and well-being.
  • Substance Abuse: If your ex-spouse uses illegal drugs or abuses alcohol, this could put your child in immediate danger. The altered mental state your ex-spouse have due to the illegal drugs or alcohol doesn’t allow them to properly care for or parent your child. 
  • Mental Illness: If your ex-spouse is mentally unstable, and is known to be irrational and unpredictable, those behaviors could place your child in danger.
  • Abandonment: Sometimes, one parent is unwilling or unable to take care of the child. Perhaps your ex-spouse has shown little or no interest in your child and doesn’t maintain contact with them. If this is the case, it would not be in your child’s best interest to be with your ex-spouse.
  • Incarceration: If your ex-spouse is in prison, they obviously will not be able to provide a home for or care for your child. It’s likely in your child’s best interest to seek full/sole custody to secure your rights now and offer your ex-spouse who is in prison reasonable visitation in the future, if it would be appropriate. Many parents take their child to visit their parent who is in prison, and you should not feel pressured or obligated to do this if you believe it will emotionally harm your child. 
  • Relocation: If your ex-spouse plans on moving out of state or out of the country, you may feel it would be in the best interest of your child if you were granted full/sole custody. 

Full and/or Sole Custody and Child Support

The more time you have parenting, the more financial burden it’s assumed you have to cover the expenses for your child. This may mean that as the primary custodial parent, you will more than likely receive more child support from your ex-spouse than you would if you and your ex-spouse had shared physical custody.

It’s important to remember that child support is calculated based on income, so if your ex-spouse, as the non-custodial parent, makes a lot less money than you do, it’s possible that no child support would be ordered. Furthermore, it’s also possible that you, as the custodial parent, would pay your ex-spouse, the non-custodial parent, child support.

Chances of Winning Full/Sole Custody of Your Child

The chances of you being awarded full/sole custody of your child can vary widely and largely depending on the circumstances of your individual case. 

If you and your ex-spouse both agree to full/sole custody, you can present the agreement you’ve reached to the judge in court and, in most cases, the judge will approve it. 

If your ex-spouse doesn’t want to go to court, and does not protest full/sole custody, the lack of interest on the part of your ex-spouse may cause the judge to award you full/sole custody of your child.

If your ex-spouse decides they want to fight for custody of your child, you could be facing a long legal fight. If you want full/sole custody of your child to protect your child from your ex-spouse, you have to prove to the court that your ex-spouse poses a danger to your child.

You should also keep in mind that most parents who win full/sole custody of their child still allow the other parent to have reasonable visitation rights with the child. You could also attempt to get supervised visitation for your ex-spouse if you believe it is in the best interest of your child.

If you decide you want full/sole custody of your child, you should be doing it because you believe it is in your child’s best interest and that you are protecting your child, not because you want to punish your ex-spouse or deprive them of their child.