How to Get Full Custody of a Child in Florida: A Guide

When a parent decides they want full custody of their child, it is necessary to get prepared and understand the intricacies of what it takes to obtain full custody. In our essential guide, “How to Get Full Custody of a Child in Florida,” we will provide parents with key considerations they need to know and potential challenges that may be faced in a child custody case. We will include details on how to get full custody as a mother, how to get full custody as a father, and other frequently asked questions, such as, “How hard is it to get full custody?”

As experienced professionals in family law, we understand the complexities and emotions involved in child custody cases. Our explanation of the step-by-step processes will be extremely valuable and provide a strong foundation of knowledge to move forward with what you need to do for you and your child.

Understanding Full Custody: What Does It Entail?

Before a parent pursues full custody of a child, it is crucial to understand what this entails. It is a huge decision and should be considered carefully.

The first thing to know is that Florida does not actually have “full custody.” When a parent is seeking “full custody,” they are actually asking the court for 100% timesharing and sole parental responsibility.

When a court awards “full custody” to one parent, this gives that parent 100% legal responsibility for the child, meaning the parent will make all major life decisions related to the child, such as what school they will attend, any medical and healthcare decisions, family rules, and decisions about religion. This is referred to as “sole parental responsibility”

“Full custody” also entails the parent having 100% timesharing, with no sharing of time with the other parent for raising the child.

In contrast to “full custody,” “joint custody” involves the sharing of both legal and physical custody of the child. The terms of a joint custody agreement would include details of how decisions will be made and how much time the child will spend in the care of each parent.

“Full custody” of a child to one parent, in certain situations, might be the best option. Other times, joint custody is in the child’s best interest. Optimally, children benefit from having an active relationship with both parents, gaining different perspectives, and maintaining strong, loving bonds – unless there are reasons present that would be harmful or negative to the child’s well-being. While a court making such a decision will base it on the best interests of the minor child(ren), it is uncommon for a parent to be awarded “full custody” without exceptional circumstances being in place. A contentious relationship between the parents is generally not enough to obtain “full custody.”

It is important to understand that parents who obtain full custody have 100% responsibility for the child as they grow up, which can be challenging.

How Hard Is It to Get Full Custody?

Two people with folded hands sitting across from each other

Getting full custody is a tough battle, but it is not impossible. There are challenges parents may face that act as hurdles to full custody. For a Court to award “full custody” it must determine that shared or joint custody is detrimental to the minor child(ren). But there needs to be proof.

As of July 1st, 2023, there is a rebuttable presumption under Florida law that says equal timesharing is in the child’s best interest, which means that a parent who wishes to pursue “full custody” has to legally prove by a preponderance of the evidence that equal timesharing is not in the best interest of the child and can include material evidence as well as testimony.

Factors Courts Consider in Custody Battles

Here are the primary factors that courts evaluate when deciding custody cases:

The child’s best interest: Custody law in Florida always considers the child’s best interest, which is the overall guiding principle. Some of the “Best Interest Factors” a court considers are:

Each parent’s living situation: Stable living conditions should be present. If one parent has unstable living conditions and/or is not reliably present as a caretaker or is consistently absent from the child’s life, the court will consider these as factors.

History of abuse or neglect: Any history of harming the child in the form of abuse or neglect. Abuse could be in the form of physical harm, sexual abuse, and psychological abuse. Neglect can include physical neglect – not providing food, shelter, clothing, or other basic needs such as keeping the child safe. It can also include educational, emotional, or medical neglect.

Substance abuse issues: A history of substance abuse issues by either parent, including alcohol or drugs.

Other factors the courts may consider include the child’s preference, a parent’s inability to honor timesharing, the ability to act on the child’s needs instead of their own wants, or a parent’s willingness to maintain a close relationship with their child.

Each custody case is unique and will have its own factors.

How to Get Full Custody as a Parent

If you are a father wanting to know how to get full custody of a child, know that fathers can get full custody in Florida in certain situations. It is possible.

When facing a custody battle, fathers might encounter unique challenges and considerations in their pursuit of full custody. It is important to note that Florida’s policy is that there is no presumption in favor of either parent over the other (i.e., Florida is not a “mother state” or “Father state.”

Overcoming Stereotypes and Biases

The way society views fathers is often imbued with stereotypes and biases. Society often considers mothers to be more caring and fathers to be providers and disciplinarians. When families break apart through divorce or other reasons, it is often assumed that the mother will be the primary or sole caretaker of the children.

Mothers may find themselves facing similar biases. In particular, a Mother may face biases related to being a working mother, utilizing daycare, or, conversely, being a stay-at-home mother.

These prevalent societal biases can make it challenging for a parent to pursue “full custody.”

Strategies for fathers to present a compelling case include showing why it is in the child’s best interest, that they are the fittest to raise the child, the ability to have sufficient quality time with the child (even with a full-time job), and, if relevant to the particular situation, proving a history or harm/abuse, alienation, or neglect by the mother.

Ensuring the Child’s Best Interests

As mentioned above, the courts’ overarching guideline for ruling on full custody is the child’s best interests. When presenting the case, it is extremely important to demonstrate that the child’s best interests align with granting the mother full custody.

Situations That May Lead to Full Custody

While each case is unique, some specific scenarios or conditions might make a court more inclined to grant one parent full custody over another. Here are some situations that may lead to full custody for a parent:

  • A parent who is physically abusive or has committed any type(s) of domestic violence against the other parent of his child.
  • A parent who is repeatedly neglectful of the basic needs of her child.
  • A parent who has been sexually abusing his child.
  • A parent who is a substance abuse user is unreliable or unable to care for the child’s needs.
  • A parent repeatedly and consistently absent from home life, neglecting family responsibilities or child care puts the child’s safety at risk.

These are examples of situations where the other parent may have a strong case to get full custody. Other circumstances may also cause the court to grant full custody to one parent.

How to Go About Getting Full Custody

Lawyer working on paperwork for full custody in Florida

The legal path to full custody requires preparation, strategy, and certain processes that need to be completed.

From examining initial considerations of the impact of what full custody will mean to the parent and child to advancing to formal legal proceedings, each step is a crucial component when determining how to get full custody of a child in Florida.

Preparing for the Custody Battle

Custody battles are challenging, but preparation goes a long way to help your case.

Before entering a custody battle, one of the most important things you can do is to gather as much evidence as possible. The type of evidence will depend on your situation, including photos or videos of physical harm, police reports, or medical records.

Records should also be available if government social service organizations have been called or involved due to neglect. Threatening communications from an abuser in the form of voicemails, emails, or text messages may also be used as evidence.

Securing legal representation is vital in the preparation stage. A family law attorney has experience gathering evidence to build a strong case and is experienced in seeking full custody.

Process of Getting Full Custody in Florida

File a Petition

A petition is filed by the parent seeking full custody to the county clerk’s office. All necessary forms should be included, including a cover sheet, a Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act Affidavit, and a Child Support Guidelines Worksheet. Depending on your situation, other forms may also be needed.

Pay the Filing Fees

The courts require the petitioner to pay filing and administrative fees before the petition can be served to the other parent. Typically, fees range from $300-$500 but do not include service fees.

Serve the Petition to the Other Parent

The child custody petition is served to the other parent utilizing either the sheriff’s office or a private processing server. The fee will depend on your location and who is chosen to serve the petition.

Wait for the Response From the Other Parent

The other parent (AKA respondent) has twenty days, once served, to respond to the petition or ask for an extension. The respondent may:

  • Contest or challenge the petition
  • File an uncontested response (they agree with the petition)
  • Add a counter-petition
  • Propose an alternative to a provision in the petition

They must respond. If not, the petitioner can file a Motion for Default. If the judge approves this, the case moves forward with the respondent.

Proceed to Court Hearings

After the court receives all petitions and responses, settlements can be conducted. If there are contests to the full custody petition, the judge orders hearings or mediation sessions for final judgments or to settle disputes.

Understanding court procedures is essential. Deadlines must be adhered to, and each process needs to be completed thoroughly and accurately to get to court hearings and final judgments or settlements.

When To Seek Legal Help in Florida

When the custody and well-being of your child is at stake, seek legal help. Our child custody lawyers have the experience, knowledge, and skills necessary to navigate the complexity of the legal system and make a strong case for full custody. Working with an experienced lawyer is very important to the outcome of your case.

Obtaining legal assistance can dramatically alter the chances of gaining full custody.

Golden Key Law Group is experienced in child custody cases and can help.