What Does it Mean When a Parent Has Full Custody?

Full custody, also known as sole custody, is rare. However, the courts do still award this type of custody in certain circumstances. Full custody does not mean that the parent without custody no longer has rights to the child, but it is different from joint or shared custody.

Types of Custody

Joint and full custody are two different types that may be ordered by a judge. However, in addition to ordering those types of custody, the courts will also choose physical and legal custody of a child.

Physical Custody

Physical custody has to do with where the child lives while legal custody determines who makes major decisions about the child.

Joint Physical and Legal Custody

In most cases, the court will award both parents joint physical and legal custody. When this happens, the child spends time living with each parent and both parents make important decisions.

Joint Legal Custody

The courts could also award joint legal custody but only one parent will be awarded physical custody. This means that the parents must decide together on any legal matters dealing with the child, such as healthcare or religion.

When your child lives with one parent most of the time and the other parent has visitation, you can determine the visitation schedule with your ex-spouse, or you can leave it up to the courts to decide.

Full or Sole Custody

The court can also order full physical and legal custody to one parent. This means that only one parent makes decisions for the child. It also means the child lives with just one parent. The court may order visitation with the parent who does not have full custody. The court can also order a combination of sole custody requirements including:

  • Sole legal custody – One parent is responsible for any legal decisions, such as education or medical treatment.
  • Sole physical custody – A child resides with one parent, and the other is awarded visitation while both parents may retain responsibility for legal decisions.

This type of custody usually occurs when one parent is deemed unfit, such as if there is physical abuse or drug addiction.

Visitation and Child Support

Even with sole custody, the non-custodial parent will be offered visitation with the child. If there are issues related to substance abuse, physical abuse, or other issues that could make it unsafe for the child to be alone with the non-custodial parent, the court may require supervised visitation.

If there are no underlying conditions that make it unsafe, the non-custodial parent will be given visitation either on a set schedule or one can be created by the parents.

In most states, child support is not tied to custody. This means even if the court orders sole custody with supervised visitation, or even no visitation, the non-custodial parent will still be required to pay child support if the court orders them to do so.

Legally Binding

A custody arrangement issued by the courts is legally binding. This means the two parents must abide by what the order says, even if they don’t agree with the decision.

Parents cannot simply change custody without also changing it in the court system. If both parents agree to the change, it is usually just a matter of filling out a form and filing it with the court. However, if one of the parents does not agree, it could be difficult to change the agreement.

Before making a custody decision, the courts will look at:

  • The length of time the order has been in place
  • Reasons for changing the custody agreement
  • What is in the best interest for the child

Facing a full custody request requires vigilance. It can be changed, but you need to take some clear steps to make that happen. A motion will need to be filed with whichever court handles family matters in your area. You will also need to be sure the other parent is served.

You may also be required to attend mediation so you can come to an agreement. If you do not, you will have to face a judge in order to present your arguments for changing custody.

If you are facing a custody hearing and the other parent is seeking full or sole custody, you need an attorney to represent you. This is no time to try to represent yourself in court. Your lawyer will guide you through the process and answer any questions you have.