It’s common knowledge that few fathers have full custody (i.e., sole custody) of their children. While custody law does not discriminate by gender, it does place weight on who a judge deems to best suit the “primary caretaker” qualities when joint or shared custody is off the table. Above all else, however, courts generally want to prioritize joint custody or enable both parents to play a role in their children’s lives – so long as it is in the best interest of the child.
Understanding what that means – and knowing what behavior can quickly land you in hot water during the custody battle – is key to gaining full custody of your child. If you are a father wishing to know more about your rights as a father in a custody case, read on.
Full vs. Joint Custody
Full and joint custody are distinguished by whether one or both co-parents have custody rights over their children. Custody rights are further differentiated as either physical or legal custody rights, where physical custody represents where the children live, and legal custody determines what parent can make critical choices regarding the children’s upbringing, education, medical care, etc.
Custody can be split between parents in multiple different ways, where one parent has legal custody. In contrast, the other has physical custody, or shared legal and physical custody, or shared physical custody but sole legal custody. In cases where parents compromise and share any aspect of custody with their co-parent, they need to draft and finalize a parenting plan for a judge to sign off on. Once made official through a judge, a parenting plan acts as a court order, with legal consequences for ignoring or not following it.
Full custody is awarded either voluntarily, after mediation, or through a custody battle. A custodial parent with full custody has both complete legal and physical custody over their child. Full custody does not eliminate the other parent’s visitation rights, however. These may also be negotiated and set during the custody battle, and any amendment to a parent’s visitation rights needs to be mutually agreed upon and legally ratified.
Can Fathers Win Full Custody?
Legally speaking, only a few circumstances under which a father cannot win full custody over their children. These include any factors that might cause the court to consider the father a danger to their child or lead them to consider the father unstable or unreliable. In cases where both parents refuse to come to a compromise even after mediation, a judge may be forced to choose one parent to award custody to. Under most circumstances, custody courts do not wish to award full custody. The exceptions to this rule are cases where one parent is abusive or a danger to their child.
To that end, convincing the court that you should get full custody may be very difficult. But it can still be done. First, you must be clear about why you wish to have full custody. If your sole reason is to avoid personal interactions with your ex-spouse, you will need a better reason. On the other hand, if you are convinced that having sole custody is in your child’s best interest – with strong reasoning and proof – you can consider it a viable option.
Important Factors for Full Custody
It’s important to reiterate that the child’s best interests remain the central ethos of any custody case and will always be at the forefront of a judge’s mind when making custody decisions. Whether or not you ultimately agree with the choice a judge makes depends on the information they could act on, but all custody cases are made or broken by what the court decides is best for the child. To that end, your goal when seeking to win sole custody is to prove that you are the absolute best choice as a parent. Some of the most influential factors in deciding this include:
What is your relationship with your child? Despite strides in gender equality, most households in the United States still conform to gender roles, meaning mothers are more often than not the child’s primary caretakers. At the same time, fathers take on a more passive role. If you have not been actively involved in your child’s life, or if your relationship with your child is generally distant, it won’t be easy to gain full custody. If, on the other hand, you have an excellent relationship with your child (setting rules and boundaries while communicating openly with your child, being involved in their hobbies and activities, knowing who they hang out and play with and where they are at all times), your chances will be much better.
Behavior Towards the Mother
How you interact with your co-parent will say a lot about you as a person, as well as your motives and intentions. It is generally advised that you remain courteous above all else, rise above any provocations, avoid badmouthing the mother in front of the child, and generally avoid anything that might make it seem like you’re intentionally channeling ill will towards your ex-spouse and using that as a motive for your case. Unless the mother of your child is a genuinely terrible influence on them, and your resentment stems from wishing to protect your child, any ill will towards a mother the courts will otherwise see as compassionate and loving towards their offspring will only reflect poorly on you.
Always Be Prepared to Accommodate Your Child
If you wish to take on full custody of your child, you will need to prove your commitment to that role. This means ensuring your child has their own room and space in your home (whether you kept the house or moved into a new place), even before anything is decided custody-wise. Show that you’re already making sure everything is ready for when your child stays with you, whether that’s half of the time or 7 days a week.
Seek Professional Help
Even in cases where both parents are at least mostly clear about what they want and how to compromise, there are many circumstances under which a custody case can quickly turn sour. Furthermore, custody laws can be difficult to navigate, and personal appearance (as well as demeanor and choice of words) go a long way towards improving your chances of full custody. Be sure to partner up with a legal professional experienced in local custody cases and family law for the best chance at winning.