What Does Full Custody Mean?

By Beverly Bird

The definition of full custody depends to some extent on where you live and your state's legal jargon. It may mean that you'll have both legal and physical custody. But in some states, it means that you have either sole legal or sole physical custody. If you're not sure what you want to ask the court for as part of your divorce, consult with a local lawyer to make sure you get the terms right for your jurisdiction.

Legal Custody

If you're granted full legal custody, this means you'll have an absolute right to make all important decisions for your children without any input from your spouse. Major decisions relate to things like education, religion or medical care. They don't include day-to-day issues, such as whether your dieting teenager can skip dinner – that falls to the parent she's residing with on that particular day. In some states, the term "full custody" refers only to legal custody. It does not take into consideration which parent your children live with most of the time.

Physical Custody

Physical custody refers to which parent has the children staying at her home most nights of the year. If you receive full physical custody, your spouse may have visitation, or in extreme circumstances – such as if he is incarcerated or his whereabouts are unknown – he may have no contact with your children at all. In some states, such as Missouri, if your spouse has any visitation or parenting time, you have joint physical custody. In other states, having joint physical custody usually means that your children spend roughly an equal number of overnights with each of you.

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Divorce is never easy, but we can help. Learn More
Sole Custody Vs. Joint Legal Custody


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What Is the Meaning of Primary Custodian?

When the word primary is used in connection with custody, it usually relates to physical custody – which parent your children will live with after your divorce. The primary parent or custodian has possession of the children the majority of the time, but different states use various terms for dealing with this legal concept.

Can You Share Custody Without Child Support?

Child support pays for the roof over your children's heads, the clothing they wear, the food they eat, and the heat that keeps them warm at night. If you're asking the court for shared or joint physical custody as part of your divorce, you and your spouse will each have your children roughly 50 percent of the time, and you'll provide directly for these costs when they're in your care. Often -- but not always, this eliminates the child support provisions in your decree.

Information About Visitation Rights

When you and your spouse divorce, it's unlikely that your child is going to live with either of you 24/7. The best scenario is that you'll have joint physical custody and your child will divide her time close to equally between your homes. Otherwise, she'll live with one of you full-time and the other parent will have visitation rights. Often, when parents separate and one continues to live in the marital home, custody will remain with her after the divorce to maintain consistency in the child's life. Courts generally award the other parent frequent, meaningful or reasonable visitation, but these terms can be vague and leave noncustodial parents confused.

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