Full custody means that only one parent has both legal and physical custody of the children. The term is often confused with “sole custody,” which can be a bit different. To clarify the difference, it’s helpful to understand the distinction between physical custody and legal custody.
Physical custody is the right of a parent to have the children live in his or her home.. Having legal custody means the parent has the right to make the important decisions that impact the children’s welfare, such as where they’ll go to school and what their religious upbringing will be.
Full v. Sole Custody
Parents can share one or both of these two types of custody. For example, it’s quite common for parents to share legal custody, but for the children to live with just one of the parents. In this example, the parent who has the right for the children to live in his or her home is the parent with sole physical custody. However, as the parents share legal custody, neither parent has complete custody. It’s important to note that even with sole physical custody, the other parent usually has some visitation rights.
When a parent has full custody, however, that parent has both sole legal and physical custody of the children. The other parent has neither type of custody. Even so, the parent without custody might have some visitation rights.
Winning Full Custody
In the past, the courts often made a default assumption that the mother would get complete custody of the children. Today, it’s no longer inevitable that the court will give sole legal and physical custody of the children to their mother. In most cases, since full custody can result in a serious decline of the non-custodial parent’s relationship with the children, current public policy argues for the parents to share custody whenever possible.
However, the courts realize that shared custody isn’t always possible and, in some extreme cases, may not even be preferable. If a parent wants sole legal and physical custody, he or she will likely have to sue for it in court.
As with cases involving joint custody, courts are first concerned with what is in the best interests of the children. If one parent was proven unfit, or that parent neglected or abused the children, the court can award full legal and physical custody to the other parent.
Assuming that both parents are fit and that the children’s interests are protected with either parent, the courts may then have to use the “better parent” standard. In this case, a parent doesn’t have to prove that the other parent is unfit, but must show that the children would be better off with his or her over the other parent.
When trying to prove that he or she is the better parent, the parent suing for custody will have to show how both the physical and psychological well-being of the children would be better served by having that parent in sole control of the children’s lives. This standard is a difficult burden to meet, and courts are increasingly reluctant to grant this type of custody.