Before fighting for custody, it’s important to understand that most states offer both physical and legal custody. Physical custody is where the child actually lives, while legal custody is the right to make decisions about the child’s education, medical care, religion, and other important parenting choices. Most judges strive to award joint legal custody as well as joint physical custody if the parents live close to one another.
Sole custody is typically awarded only when the other parent is deemed unfit. Although the definition of an unfit parent varies by state, it can be declared in cases involving abuse, neglect, abandonment, cruelty and/or depravity. The judge may also determine that the parent has not shown reasonable concern for the child’s welfare. A child custody attorney can help you understand unfitness criteria in your state.
If you believe your child’s other parent is unfit, you must present evidence to the court if you are seeking sole custody. This can include medical records, video or audio evidence, emails or text messages, and any other documentation that shows abuse, neglect, or other harmful conduct. Judges preserve the parent/child relationship whenever possible, so clear proof is needed when you pursue full custody.
Family courts use the “best interest” standard when deciding child custody matters. The judge considers the mental and physical health of both the children and the parents, emotional bond between the parent and child, the parent’s ability to provide for the child and other relevant factors. Parents who are pursuing child custody should also keep these standards in mind throughout the proceedings.