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What Are Reasons Parents Get Full Child Custody?

What Are Reasons Parents Get Full Child Custody?

Approaching child custody can be intimidating, but you’re not alone in preparing for the process. There are over 12.9 million custodial parents in the U.S. living with 21.9 million children, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

While parents often settle the custody of a child out of court, disagreements on custody arrangements can mean you need to head before a judge. Maybe it’s even a case where you’re facing the prospect of one parent getting full custody.

Once this kind of custody order is in place, it can be difficult and time-consuming to change, so you should understand what getting full custody could mean for your family. A good first step is often speaking with a family law attorney with experience in the matter.

Understand the Types of Custody

Custody of a child consists of physical and legal custody. Physical custody is who the child will be with on a day-to-day basis, while legal custody relates to the decision-making ability for the children. Both physical and legal custody can be held solely by one parent or shared between them.

What Is the Difference Between Sole Custody and Joint Custody?

While people often use words like sole, joint, shared, or primary and secondary to describe custody, the law in North Carolina does not define these types of custody.

These terms can be used to describe any number of custody arrangements. This can stretch from one parent having every other weekend to an equal sharing arrangement.

Generally, a parent with sole physical custody has the children all the time, and the other parent has limited contact with the children. Sole legal custody would usually mean that the parent can make major decisions for the children without having to notify the other parent ahead of time.

Limits on Sole Custody

While sole custody can give one parent a lot of discretion to make decisions, they can’t impact the other parent’s rights in the child custody order, if there are any. Some major decisions, like moving to another state, could affect the other parent’s visitation time. This means the parent with sole custody will likely have to get a court order amending the custody arrangement.

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How North Carolina Courts Decide to Award Sole Custody

A parent has a constitutional right to the care, custody, and control of their child. However, this does not mean that parents will always be able to earn a share of the custody. When the court views one party as unfit or determines that reasonable visitation is not in the child’s best interest, the parent may have limited access to their children.

How a Child’s Best Interest Matters

A parent trying to obtain sole custody will have to meet a high burden to show it’s in the child’s best interest not to have reasonable visitation or that the parent is unfit. There are a few factors that can come into play when a judge is deciding if a parent is capable of caring for the child:

  • The relationship they have with the child
  • The parent’s mental and emotional state
  • Their financial stability and living situation

The judge can also weigh the child’s wishes if the child is old enough and mature enough. There aren’t any concrete rules when considering this factor, but sometimes older children can have more say in the custody arrangement.

Other Reasons to File for Full Custody

These positive interests can tip the scale in favor of one parent’s ability to take sole custody of their child. There’s also the other end where negative points for a parent can make it more plausible that they don’t get a share of custody:

  • Mental illness
  • Substance abuse
  • Domestic violence
  • Child alienation
  • Parental alienation

These are only some of the serious circumstances that can lead a judge to grant sole custody.

Supervised Custody for the Noncustodial Parent

While sole custody could be a course of action when one parent might be detrimental to a child, a judge could still determine that visitation is important—even if the child can’t necessarily live with that parent safely. This can result in supervised visitation, which means that a qualified third party oversees the parent’s time with their child to ensure the child’s protection.

A parent may need to show proof of improvement before they can take a bigger role, from unsupervised sessions to some form of custody. This could include milestones like completing parenting classes, completing therapy, finishing substance abuse treatment, or a long streak of successful visitations.

RELATED: What You Need to Know About Supervision Visitation in North Carolina

Myers Law Firm Is Here to Help

If you’re facing family law issues that could affect your family, like when full custody might be on the table, it’s important to find legal guidance from an experienced family law attorney.

Myers Law Firm has over 60 combined years of experience handling sensitive family law matters like this, and we’re ready to listen to you and help craft potential plans. Call us at (888) 376-2889 or complete this short form to schedule a free consultation.


Child Welfare Information Gateway. (2020). Determining the best interests of the child. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Children’s Bureau. https://www.childwelfare.gov/pubpdfs/best_interest.pdf

Grall, Timothy. (2020, May) Custodial Mothers and Fathers and Their Child Support: 2017. Washington, DC: U.S. Census Bureau. https://www.census.gov/content/dam/Census/library/publications/2020/demo/p60-269.pdf

N.C. Gen. Stat. § 50-13.2

The content provided here is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject.

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