It’s well known that mothers usually get custody of minor children when a couple divorces. However, “usually” does not mean “always.” In the U.S., mothers comprise nearly 80% of full custodial parents. Note that half of those cases had both parents agreeing that the mother should have that custody. With almost 20% of fathers receiving full custody and other cases in dispute, it’s good to learn about the law and what your options are.

How Does California View Custody Rights?

In California, fathers have the same rights as mothers do when it comes to family law and custody. That’s good in the sense that fathers are treated equally rather than the lesser of two custody options. But there are some ramifications to that equality.

California judges are required to assign custody based on the child’s best interests. California laws also promote frequent contact and visits with the child and parents. That can lead to judges in the state looking at 50/50 custody and visitation if both parents seem capable of safely and lovingly caring for the child, so the child builds relationships with both parents equally.

What Are the Different Types of Child Custody?

There are two primary types of custody, each with a subset of conditions.

  • Legal Custody. This involves the parents’ rights to make decisions in many aspects of the child’s life, including health and medical, education, religious beliefs, and others. The two types of legal custody are:
    • Sole Legal Custody. This means one parent only makes all the relevant decisions, while the other parent has no say.
    • Joint Legal Custody. Both parents have decision-making rights and will have to work out compromises at times.
  • Physical Custody. This determines where the child lives. The two types of physical custody are:
    • Sole Physical Custody. One parent has the child most or all of the time. The other parent has little or no visits or contact.
    • Joint Physical Custody. The child divides its living time between the parents equally or by a prearranged division.

Because California encourages equal access to the child, having an experienced family and custody law attorney involved could help a father seeking full custody by knowing the ins and outs of the state laws and how to handle them. 

What Could Help a Father Gain Full Custody?

There are several things a father can do to demonstrate his commitment to caring for a child with full custody.

  • Make the Child the Focus. Unfortunately, there are parents, both mothers and fathers, who use custody as a battle technique. This is in no one’s best interests, especially the child. The courts are all too familiar with this type of behavior and don’t view it as child-focused. A strong relationship with the child is critical, as it demonstrates that the father can care for the child physically, mentally, and emotionally. That includes proving that adequate housing will be provided.
  • Develop a Parenting Plan. Ideally, the father’s spouse would voluntarily relinquish full custody, and he would easily take the responsibility. But if there’s any chance that there’s going to be a custody dispute, put together a formal parenting plan detailing how the father will care and provide for the child. This not only helps the father determine what needs to be done but is a document that the court can view as evidence that the father takes the responsibility seriously.
  • Stay Calm with the Ex. It can be frustrating and enraging to deal with an ex that shows little impetus to negotiate in good faith. But both the child and the courts are watching. Staying calm and, when possible, showing kindness speaks volumes of the person asking for full custody. It also demonstrates the kind of patience a full-time parent needs to have.
  • Hire an Experienced Attorney. There are many reasons to have an experienced attorney by your side during this process. One of those reasons is when the other spouse makes false accusations, such as domestic assault. Not surprisingly, those kinds of allegations can hurt a father’s chance at custody. If they’re false, having a lawyer who can do the appropriate research and discover evidence exonerating the dad could make an enormous difference in the custody trial outcome.

What Else Should I Know About Trying for Full Custody as a Father?

While California encourages joint custody arrangements, fathers who were the child’s primary caretaker before the divorce proceedings began have a good chance of gaining custody simply because the courts like to minimize the number of changes facing the child. If the father can demonstrate that, as the primary caretaker, he has kept the child’s needs in focus and as a priority, it will make a good case in court.

There are also times when the mother is deemed unfit, whether because she has been abusive or neglectful, has a substance abuse problem, or has mental health conditions that make it impossible for her to care for the child safely, the father could get full custody.

My Spouse and I Are Divorcing, and I Want Full Custody; How Should I Proceed?

Child custody can be a complex, contentious matter, especially if both parents want full custody rights. Call the Sarieh Law Offices at 949-828-2267 (Newport Beach) or 714-694-7723 (Santa Ana) to learn what options you may have and not lose time in getting a legal plan started.