Full custody, also called sole custody, occurs when a court awards either you, your spouse or a third party both physical placement and legal custody of your child or children. Most states do not consider full custody a normal arrangement and require that you file a formal petition stating your reasons for wanting full custody before they will consider your request. Courts then weigh the reasons you provide for full custody against the best interests of the children in making a final determination.
While the legal definition of an unfit parent depends on the state in which you live, abuse, neglect and failure to provide proper care for your child are generally accepted grounds. In addition, mental illness or a drug addiction can be reasons to declare a parent as unfit. In defining conditions under which a court may determine custody issues after declaring a parent as unfit, USLegal.com cites a state statute that requires a child first be removed from the home of the unfit parent for a minimum of six months. After that time there can be no change in the conditions requiring removal of the child, no reasonable certainty conditions will change in the near future, a judge must determine a continued relationship between the child, and unfit parent will be detrimental to the child.
Courts do not consider you an absent parent simply because your child does not live with you. In most states, even failure to pay court ordered child support is not a sufficient definition. In most cases, an absent parent is one who, for whatever reason, fails to maintain contact and in effect, abandons a child. If you list this as grounds for full custody, state laws may require that you first attempt to locate the absent parent. In addition, even if the court does award you full custody, if the absent parent should turn up and want to reassert parental rights, the court may decide to award visitation rights.
Courts do take into consideration the inability of you and your spouse to get along when it comes to matters of parenting. Gordon S. Johnson Sr., a Wisconsin attorney defines this as “bitterness that borders on hatred” and provides the example of extreme badmouthing as one reason a judge may use for awarding full custody. Michigan custody guidelines state a judge may award sole custody when it appears parents cannot work together to parent their child or children.
A judge will consider the wishes of your child as a reason for full custody. Taken as a single reason, child preference is not a good enough reason for full custody. However, combining this reason with other factors may influence the judge’s decision. When child preference is a reason, the judge will speak with your child, usually privately, and make a decision using this request as only of one of a combination of factors.
Death of the Custodial Parent
In some cases, a third party, such as a grandparent or sibling of the parent may ask for full custody. One reason a judge may consider in a request such as this is if a parent who has sole custody dies. States do impose other conditions the situation must meet before they will consider this as a reason, however. For example, Michigan courts will only consider a request such as this if the child’s parents were not legally married, the remaining parent does not already have legal custody and the person making the request is a relative, either by blood or by adoption.