Both parents have responsibility for their children. It’s not always easy to share parental responsibility, whether parents are together or separated. 

When relationships are marked by high-conflict interactions, sharing parental responsibility can feel impossible. When custody disputes become ongoing, increased stress can cause conflict between co-parents

Child custody disputes sometimes arise when parental relationships break down. If no court-ordered parenting plan is in place to divide the child’s time between each parent, competing priorities can create tension. How many hours do fathers waste waiting for a child custody exchange when the mother is running late again? 

There’s no secret answer to the question: how can a father get full custody of their child? Whether or not you’re involved in a divorce, each custody case depends on its own facts. Courts decide custody on a case-by-case basis.

The law favors strong relationships with healthy parents. Perhaps the best question is how can fathers put themselves in the best position to get full custody of their child?

Put Safety First

If your child needs protection from an abusive parent, do not delay contacting a reputable domestic violence attorney. A court will grant a temporary restraining order to protect children from imminent and life-threatening harm. 

A protective order, if entered, will temporarily suspend any court order for visitation or time-sharing. At the hearing on the protective order, the court might permit supervised visitation or keep the restraining order in place. 

For a father, getting full custody of a child can be a long process. When dealing with child custody cases, courts sometimes move slowly, to ease the transition for the child. Fathers have to stay patient and trust the legal process. 

Ignore the Myth

It’s a quirk of human biology that the mother gets custody of a child before the father. And once upon a time in legal history, courts applied a legal theory, the tender years doctrine, that favored mothers over fathers. So it makes sense that the myth persists that courts almost always award custody to mothers. 

Ignore the myth! As a practical matter, the mother has custody of the child from its birth. The legal presumption of maternity attaches the moment of the child’s birth. 

For unmarried fathers, however, there is no legal presumption of paternity. So, an unmarried father has to work to establish his right to his child.

An experienced family lawyer can help a father establish paternity. 

Know the Law

Once paternity is established, the law treats both parents equally concerning custody rights. Under New Jersey law, courts decide how to award custody between the parents based on the best interest of the child

Best Interest of the Child

The best interest of the child standard allows the court to look at any factor relevant to the best interest of the child. The law lists several factors courts should consider:

  • Age and number of children
  • Parents’ ability to agree, communicate and cooperate regarding the child
  • Parents’ willingness to accept custody or history of refusing to allow custody
  • Stability of the home environment
  • Child’s school and community history
  • Parental fitness

Of course, the court considers how much time a father has spent with their child in the past and the quality of the relationship between the child and the father. One way fathers can get full custody of their children is to exercise custody regularly and continuously. 

Custody has two parts: legal custody and physical custody. Legal custody refers to the right to make decisions and exercise authority over matters relating to a child. Legal custody includes the right to make decisions about a child’s health, education, and welfare. 

Physical custody is the time a child spends with their parents. New Jersey refers to physical custody as time-sharing. A family’s time-sharing schedule is part of their parenting plan. 

When both parents share the legal and physical custody of children, we say the parents have joint custody. If the child primarily lives with one parent, that parent might be called the custodial parent. The parenting plan describes how parents should consult with each other when making decisions about the child. 

When parents share legal and physical custody, we say the parents have joint custody. Sole custody refers to a court awarding one parent the exclusive right to make decisions and have physical custody of the child. Even though a parent has sole custody, the court can award the noncustodial parent with appropriate parenting time.

Sole custody could be appropriate if a parent suffers from drug or alcohol addiction or severe mental health issues that interfere with their ability to parent. 

Focus on the Reason

A parent seeking full (sole) custody should have a compelling reason. Minor inconveniences, small conflicts, or one missed vacation are not compelling reasons. A child has a right to a relationship with both parents, except when a parent poses a risk of harm to the child.