How Can a Father Get Full Custody of His Child?

Father and son having breakfast in kitchen
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Even though the courts do not discriminate against dads, very few fathers have full custody of their children. According to census records, 17.5% of custodial parents are fathers.

Though there can be several reasons why, it can be hard not to be discouraged by this if you're a father seeking full custody. While the process can be challenging, it is not impossible.

Most judges try to ensure that the decisions they make are in the best interest of the children. In the absence of concerns such as abuse or substance use issues, when awarding full custody to one parent is best, this often means maintaining contact and relationships with both parents. 

Whether you are a father going for full custody or joint custody, you should do everything you can to prepare for the child custody negotiation ahead of you. By making the best case for custody, you can reach the result you're hoping for.

Be Realistic and Honest

It's essential that you are honest with yourself about what you can manage on your own practically, financially, and otherwise.

While full custody may be want your heart wants, it may simply not be realistic.

The court will look to ensure that you have a clear sense of the new life you are petitioning to take on. Think of all of the responsibilities that you juggle on a daily basis and how you will manage them while being a single parent.

Determine what you truly can and cannot do, and be clear about that with others. This will improve the likelihood that your request will be taken seriously.

Make a Plan

A judge will expect you to be prepared for custody if it is awarded. Compile intelligent responses to potential questions that are asked by a judge.

For example, a judge may ask questions about living accommodations, the child's education (including after-school activities), and financial preparedness.

Be ready to answer each of them thoroughly and honestly.

Talk to Other Parents

Speak to others who have been through the child custody process. They can offer insight and let you know what to expect.

But remember that everyone's experience is unique. Try your best to separate the emotional aspects of their stories from the facts. It's easy for someone else's fear or anxiety to ratchet up your own, which can negatively (and unnecessarily) cloud your judgement.

Be Involved in Your Child's Life

In addition to making sure you can take care of a child's basic and practical needs, the court will look for evidence of a meaningful relationship.

While you may feel a strong connection with your child, the judge is looking for objective expressions of that as well.

For example:

  • Do staff members at your child's school know you? Have you met with them about academic progress?
  • Do you sit and do homework with your child or coach their sports team?
  • Do you attend your children’s social, educational, religious, and other important events? (E.g., school plays, birthday parties, and awards ceremonies)
  • Do you know who your child's best friends are? What your child wants to be when they grow up?

Pay Child Support

Whether you are petitioning the court for full or joint custody, continue to make regular child support payments. You will want to make sure you have a good track record when you enter the process.

If you have an informal arrangement with your child’s other parent, maintain good records such as cancelled checks, receipts, and any other documentation that shows you have been consistently supporting your kids financially.

If you are struggling to make payments, you can request a modification. But, you shouldn't attempt to get full custody just to eliminate paying child support.

You also may want to consider whether or not you will request child support from the other parent if you are awarded full custody.

Keep Track of Visitations

Having an accurate record of your visitation schedule is an important part of trying to win child custody. Visitation records not only show how often you see your children under the current arrangements, but they also demonstrate your reliability and commitment to your kids.

If you and your ex-partner currently have a parenting plan that was submitted to the court when child custody was originally discussed, then be sure you are honoring the visitation arrangements in that plan. And, if your ex-partner is not honoring those arrangements, or if they are keeping you from your kids, document that too.

One way to keep track of your visitations is to use a calendar or a child custody app. Look for apps that include a time and date stamp as these are considered reliable pieces of evidence in court and lend credibility to your argument.

Create a Space for Your Child

A court will ask about adequate living accommodations during all hearings about child custody.

Even if you live in a small space, you should make a special place in your home for your child. The judge will want to ensure:

  • You are at your residence on a consistent basis.
  • You have a bed for your child to sleep in whenever they are with you (i.e., not a couch or an air mattress).
  • Your home is safe and secure.

Be sure you have addressed all of these issues to the best of your ability before appearing in court.

Treat Co-Parents Respectfully

The way you treat your child's other parent may be a factor in determining child custody.

Being adversarial or rude to the other parent cannot only make shared decision making more difficult, but it can end up fracturing parent/child relationships.

Because of this, judges are more likely to side with the parent who is not engaging in this behavior.

Even if your former partner is extremely challenging to co-parent with, do everything you can to be respectful. This includes speaking appropriately about them to your children.

Respect Your Child's Wishes

Custody cases, and the transition that starts after them, are difficult for everyone—especially kids.

While parents often spend a lot of time thinking about what they want or what they think is best for their children, kids' opinions are too often left out of the calculus.

The judge will want to know what the kids want and will likely ask them directly at some point in the process. By asking your child what they think and desire, you can better inform your decision making.

While you may not be able to accommodate their every wish, it's important that your kids have a say in where they live and with whom.

Allow them to share their thoughts and opinions without trying to convince them or sway them one way or another—and really listen.

Then, use this information to draft a custody request that clearly indicates you listened to them and care about their thoughts and feelings.

A Word From Verywell

Keep in mind, too, that most judges are not inclined to alter existing custody arrangements if things appear to be working well.

If you are going to pursue full custody, you need to be able to present some compelling evidence as to why this new arrangement is in the best interest of your children.

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  1. United States Census Bureau. Custodial mothers and fathers and their child support.