What Does Full Custody Mean For Me?
When consulting a custody lawyer, you may ask, “What does full custody mean for me?” Keep reading as this blog explores the answer to that question.
Over 51 million children – that’s how many kids in the United States live with two parents as of 2020. This is according to the latest Census Bureau report, which also states that it’s only 70% of all U.S. children. Over 20% (15.3 million) live with only their mother, while 4.5% (3.3 million) live just with their father.
Some children living with only one parent do so because either parent has full custody of them. This living arrangement, in turn, often results from a divorce.
But what does full custody mean for parents? What about the children? Is it the best option for everyone involved, and if not, what is?
This comprehensive guide answers all those questions in detail, so please read on.
What Is Full Custody Under the Law?
Full custody is one of the two primary child custody options in the United States. The other is joint custody.
With full custody, one parent takes on all the responsibilities for raising a child. In legal terms, this parent is the “custodial parent.” The other parent without custody is the “non-custodial parent.”
The custodial parent’s responsibility is to raise and care for the child most or all the time. It’s also typically this parent’s duty to make crucial decisions affecting the child.
A family judge may grant a parent full custody under the following circumstances.
Other Parent Has a Substance Use Disorder (SUD)
Over 46 million Americans aged 12 or older met the criteria for having an SUD in 2021. SUD can be alcohol use disorder, drug use disorder, or both.
If a parent has SUD, a court may deem them unfit to have custody rights. This is especially true if this parent has repeatedly failed multiple rehabilitation programs.
A court may decide to do this to prevent the potential exposure of a child to alcohol or drugs. That’s because exposure can put children at risk of developing SUD. They may also accidentally ingest alcohol or drugs if they stay with their parent who has an SUD.
Family courts don’t want any of that to happen. As a result, they may award the other parent without an SUD full custody of the child.
Incarceration or a Record of Serious Crime
A parent convicted of a serious crime, such as armed robbery, can face a lengthy prison term. This incarceration and criminal history can make them unfit to raise their child. The family judge may then grant the other parent full custody.
Other Parent’s History of Abuse or Neglect
At least one in every seven children in the U.S. has gone through abuse or neglect. Sadly, many of these kids have experienced this at the hands of their parents.
Thus, when a family court presides over a custody case, it looks into possible abuse or neglect. A parent with such a history may lose their right to custody.
In that case, full custody may go to the parent with no history of abusing or neglecting their child.
One Parent’s Disability or Incapacitation
Child custody matters are more common after going through a divorce. However, they may also arise due to one parent’s health condition. This includes disabilities with long-term physical and cognitive impairments.
An example is a stroke, which, in the U.S. alone, affects about 795,000 people yearly. It can cause paralysis, memory loss, and speech and language problems.
Such debilitating conditions may incapacitate one parent. This can lead to their loss of ability to look after their child. In this case, a family court may grant full custody to the other parent.
What Does Full Custody Mean for Custodial Parents?
Suppose you’ve been through a divorce, and the court awarded you full child custody.
As the custodial parent, you likely have both legal and physical custody.
Legal custody gives you the responsibility and authority to decide your child’s upbringing. This includes their education, discipline, medical care, and religious teachings.
Physical custody refers to where the child will live and spend most of their time. Therefore, if the court awards you this, your child will live and spend most of their time with you.
So, once you have full custody, you’ll be responsible for your child’s day-to-day care. These include the following:
- Providing their basic needs, including food, shelter, and clothing
- Choosing a good school for your child to attend
- Ensuring your child attends school
- Enrolling your child in extracurricular activities
- Taking your child to their extracurricular activities
- Helping your child with homework and school projects
- Maintaining your child’s good hygiene and health
- Addressing your child’s medical issues promptly
As you can see, having full custody means you’ll be able to spend as much time as possible with your child. However, this also means you must plan your schedule carefully, even more so if you work.
What About for Non-Custodial Parents?
Under a full custody agreement, the non-custodial parent may still have visitation rights. This is one of the factors that set it apart from sole custody.
In many sole custody cases, the non-custodial parents typically have no visitation rights. They may also have no legal custody rights over their children.
With full custody, the non-custodial parent may still be able to visit and spend time with their child. The frequency and length often depend on their agreement with the custodial parent.
What Visitation Schedule Should You Agree To?
Family courts encourage parents to work together in establishing a visitation schedule. They should primarily base this on their child’s best interests. These should include the child’s school, extracurricular activities, and, sometimes, preferences.
If you’re unsure how to create a visitation schedule, consider hiring a custody lawyer. They can provide expert advice and help you work with your ex-spouse. This is especially crucial if you don’t want the court to decide for you.
Maryland family courts take over creating visitation schedules if parents can’t agree. In this case, they may award the non-custodial parent one of four types of visitation rights.
Supervised visits take place at designated locations at specified times. In many cases, they occur at visitation centers or neutral sites. A social worker, court liaison, or counselor often supervises the visits.
A court may opt for supervised visits if the non-custodial parent has SUD or anger issues. It may also order monitored drop-offs and pick-ups to prevent parent-to-parent contact.
This scheduled visitation agreement is often best for parents not on good terms. The court sets a fixed schedule of the exact days and times a non-custodial parent can visit their child.
An example of a fixed visitation schedule is every weekend, from 8 a.m. Saturday to 4 p.m. Sunday. The non-custodial parent can spend time with their child during only these times and days. They must then drop off the child at a specified location no later than 4 p.m. on a Sunday.
Flexible/Reasonable Visitation Schedule
This agreement allows parents to negotiate child custody visitation schedules with each other. It gives them the freedom to decide the days and times of visitation. This often works for parents who’ve maintained a civil, even amicable relationship post-divorce.
However, you, the custodial parent, still have more control over this visitation schedule. You can still disagree, provided you have good reason to do so.
For example, you’ve decided to go on a three-day holiday and booked hotels and tours for you and your child. However, your former spouse is requesting a visit on those days. Because you’re the custodial parent, you can still say no and ask the other to reschedule their visit.
This is rare, but a family court could still choose this under severe circumstances. An example is if the non-custodial parent could pose any risk to the child. In this case, the court may not allow physical visits but may agree to a virtual one (e.g., a Zoom video call).
How Do Children Fare Under Full Custody?
There’s an association between co-parenting and positive social and emotional development in children. Better co-parenting relationship quality often has a more positive impact on kids. For this reason, courts almost always want both parents to have custodial rights.
That’s also why you should consider sharing child custody with your former spouse. However, this would only be in your child’s best interest if their other parent:
- Is a responsible, loving adult
- Has no history of or existing SUD
- Has no history of abusing or neglecting your child
- Has never engaged in any crime
- Commits to being a great parent
- Has a desire to be as present as possible in their child’s life
If the other parent doesn’t meet the above criteria, your child would be safer under your full custody. Having you care for and raise your child would be in their best interest.
Should You Fight for Full Custody?
Now that you know the answer to “What does full custody mean,” it’s time to decide if it’s best for your child. It is if the other parent is irresponsible and poses a severe risk and hazard to your child. But if this isn’t the case, you should consider joint custody.
If you’re still unsure which custody option is best for your child, Blattner Family Law Group is here to help. Our team of highly experienced family lawyers can give you the guidance you need. Contact us now for your free consultation.