How Can a Mom Get Full Custody

Getting Full Custody of Your Child

As a mother, you probably want what’s best for your child. Unfortunately, that may mean going to court to get full custody. Perhaps the other parent is abusive, leads an unstable life or is neglectful of your child. If you believe that you are the better parent and can provide a better environment for your child, getting an order from the court granting you full custody will help ensure that you have complete rights, as well as responsibilities, over your child.

Getting a Child Custody Order From the Court

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Be aware that the processes and rules for getting a child custody order vary from state to state and county to county. Your own case, depending on where you live, may have different procedural requirements and rules.

To get full custody of your child, you must usually first file a case with your county courthouse’s family law department. Your request for a child custody order may be part of a bigger court case, such as the dissolution of your marriage (divorce) case. File a form that requests child custody. If it’s a divorce, your child custody order request will become a part of it, and the judge assigned to that case typically is the same judge who determines child custody. You may have a finalized child custody order at the conclusion of your divorce case.

You may also file for child custody separately. Alternatively, if an existing child custody order is in place, you may file to change it.

The Different Forms of Custody

The two forms of custody are legal custody and physical custody. Legal custody means having the power to make decisions over the child’s health, education and welfare. Physical custody means the child lives with you. A parent who doesn’t have physical custody may still have legal custody, which means that although the child doesn’t live with him, he still has the right to make decisions about the child’s schooling, health care and other matters that affect the child’s welfare.

Typically, on the child custody form, which may be called a “Request for Order” form, you mark which type of custody, legal and/or physical, you are asking for. You will also write to whom you want the legal and/or physical custody granted, whether it’s to you only (sole), the other party or to both parents (joint). Having sole custody means that you have all the responsibility and rights, and the child lives with you. Joint custody means that both parents have certain responsibilities and rights, for example, the child splits his time between the two parents’ homes.

Besides physical and legal custody, decide what to ask for in terms of visitation. If you want sole custody of your child, both legal and physical, do you still want the child’s other parent to see the child sometimes, such as on certain weekends or between specific hours? Besides visitation, you may want the court to order how your child spends her holidays and whether the other parent can travel with her and how far. These requests, along with others, such as child support, spousal support and property control, may also be made at the same time as your child custody request.

Agreeing on a Parenting Plan

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If you can, it’s best if you and the other parent can work out and agree on a parenting plan. If both parents agree to a particular plan and sign it, the judge may sign off, and it becomes the child custody order. If you and the other parent can’t agree, the court may order you and the other parent to attend mediation sessions with the family court services department to agree on a parenting plan.

If you and the other parent really can’t agree, for example, if you want sole legal and physical custody, but the other parent wants sole or joint custody, the judge will set a court hearing date and make the decision.

The Best Interests of the Child

In determining whether to grant legal and/or physical custody of your child when it’s being contested by the other parent, the judge decides whether doing so is in the best interests of the child. On the child custody form, a section may appear in which you must explain as to why the order(s) is in the child’s best interest.

What’s considered to be in the best interests of the child may vary from state to state and is stipulated in the state’s family law code. According to Child Welfare Information Gateway, a government service that promotes the safety and well-being of children, 22 states and the District of Columbia supply guidelines that help the judge in determining the best interests of the child. Common factors include evidence of physical violence in the home; the mental and physical health of the parents and/or the child; the ability of the parents to provide a safe home and adequate food, clothing and medical care; and the emotional ties and relationships between the child, her parents and other siblings. In some states, the judge may also consider other relevant factors.

Some states also list what judges should not consider when determining the best interests of the child. For example, in Connecticut, judges cannot consider the socioeconomic status of the parents. In Delaware, judges should not assume that one parent is better qualified than the other to care for the child because of gender.

Mothers With Custody

It’s no longer widely presumed that it’s always best for a child to live with her mother. Yet, in reality, perhaps because it’s usually the mother who has the primary care of children, most children end up living with their mother after the end of a marriage or relationship. According to a Congressional Research Service report issued in 2016, 13.4 million parents had custody of their children while the other parent lived elsewhere, and 83 percent of those parents were the mothers. However, compared to earlier decades, such as the ’60s and ’70s, especially in states such as California and Arizona, joint physical custody rates increased.

Getting Help

Since seeking child custody is such a serious matter that often results in a complicated and lengthy process, you should retain a lawyer. From start to finish, an experienced family law attorney can do everything that’s necessary for you to get a child custody order. It’s especially important if your request for child custody is being contested and/or if your situation has complicating factors. Your attorney will advocate on your behalf to show the judge why you should have full custody and respond to requests from the other parent. It’s even more important to have a good lawyer if the person challenging your request for full custody has retained a lawyer.

Lawyer’s fees vary widely, usually increasing based on the complexity of the case. If you don’t have the money to hire a lawyer, a family law or pro bono lawyer or organization may be able to help. Some lawyers may also provide services on a sliding scale, which means that payment depends on income.

If you really must file for custody yourself, try to utilize a family law facilitator or self-help center, which may provide help in filing the necessary paperwork and with general information as to how to proceed with your case.