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Child Custody | Divorce | Family

Can a Military Parent Get Full Custody?

8 min read
Francesca Toledo, J.D.

by Francesca Toledo, J.D.

A military parents is just regular parent that have the same rights to their children as a civilian parent. The primary difference with military parents is the likelihood of them getting deployed and spending extensive time away from home.

Military parents are capable of getting full custody. However, like civilian parents, just because a military parent requests full custody it does not mean the court will grant it. There are several steps to take and consideration to make before a military parent can obtain full custody.

If you’re a military parent in need of legal guidance to pursue full custody, an unbundled lawyer can assist you.

What Exactly Does “Custody” Mean?

Many parents hear the word “custody” and just assume it has a singular definition. However, when it comes to military child custody, there are different types of custody arrangements. The exact arrangement and schedule you get depend on your situation and your child’s needs.

Custody entails physical and legal custody. Physical custody refers to where the child will live, or where they’re “physically” located. Parents can either share physical custody, where the child will spend time with both parents, or one parent can get sole physical custody.

Legal custody gives a parent the ability to make decisions on behalf of their minor child. Because children are not able to decide certain things for themselves, a parent with legal custody can make decisions for them, including where they will attend school and what religion they will practice. Like physical custody, parents can either share legal custody and make decisions together, or one parent can have sole legal custody, taking away the other parent’s right to be involved in decision-making. 

Courts often grant parents joint, or shared, custody. When parents have joint custody, they have both physical and legal custody of their children. The child can have both parents present and involved in their life. 

Getting Full Custody

Courts often prefer joint custody, as it allows a child to grow up with both parents by their side. However, in many cases, joint custody is not what is in the child’s best interest, and one parent is better suited to take care of the child full-time. 

When a parent has full custody, they have both physical and legal custody of their child, and they do not share custody with the other parent. The parent with full custody, the custodial parent, has full responsibility for taking care of their child. 

While getting full custody might be your ultimate goal, it usually does not come without its challenges. Courts don’t prefer granting one parent full custody unless one parent is deemed unfit. Unfit parents do not provide their children with the proper care, guidance, and support that a child needs. 

A parent can be deemed unfit if they:

  • Are currently incarcerated
  • Have a significant criminal past
  • Have a history of child neglect or abuse
  • Have a history of drug or alcohol abuse

Courts may also grant a parent full custody if the other parent is physically or mentally unable to care for their child through no fault of their own, for example, if they suffer from an incapacity. 

To get full custody, you’ll have to show the court why full custody is appropriate in your situation and how it would positively benefit your child.

Visitation Rights for the Noncustodial Parent

Depending on the circumstances, a noncustodial parent can get visitation rights. The exact details of a parent’s visitation are up to the judge. Visitation can either be supervised or unsupervised, and visitation time may be restricted.

Supervised visitation requires supervision by a third party in an agreed-upon location. Social workers, psychologists, or family members may supervise, and visitations may take place at a park, someone’s home, a visitation center, or another location. 

Unsupervised visitation allows a noncustodial parent to spend time with their child without supervision. Parents with unsupervised visitation may take their child for several hours, or overnight, depending on the arrangement. 

If giving the noncustodial parent visitation rights is not in the child’s best interest, a judge has no qualms about denying a parent visitation. 

How to Get Full Custody

The exact process of pursuing full custody depends on your circumstances. While the process may not look the same for everyone, below is an explanation of the required steps and a general idea of what you could expect. 

If You’re Attempting to Get Full Custody as Part of a Divorce

If you’re going through a divorce with your spouse and wish to ask the court to grant full custody, you can do so in your divorce petition. 

Initiating a divorce case involves drafting and filing a petition with the court, along with required documents and filing fees. The petitioning spouse then serves the respondent spouse with copies of court filings. The respondent then has a certain number of days, depending on your state’s laws, to file their response to the petition with the court.

Depending on how your divorce goes, how willing you and your spouse are to work things out together, and your state’s law, you may have the opportunity to settle your divorce case outside of court. Whether it be creating a settlement agreement directly with your spouse or going to mediation, you can make decisions together and submit them to the court for approval.

Unfortunately, when it comes to seeking full custody, not many parents would freely agree to it. Therefore, if you’re interested in getting full custody, there is a high likelihood you’ll need to involve the court. Your case may end up before a judge, where you’ll present the judge with your argument and evidence as to why full custody would be best for your child.

Once your divorce has concluded, the details in your court orders go into effect. 

If You’re Attempting to Get Full Custody Without a Divorce

If you’re seeking full custody through a child custody case not associated with a divorce, you’ll follow similar steps as filing for divorce. You’ll need to draft and file a petition with the court, and once filed, you’ll serve your child’s other parent with copies of court filings. Then, the respondent parent has a certain number of days to file their response to your petition.

Every state handles child custody proceedings differently. In many states, fathers may need to take additional steps to prove their paternity first before a court will ever consider granting any sort of custody. 

Like divorce cases, parents can handle custody decisions together outside of court. However, when one parent seeks full custody, that usually involves a custody battle, requiring assistance from a judge.

Once decisions have been made and a child custody order has been entered, the custody arrangement is carried out. 

Factors Affecting Child Custody Determinations

When a judge is tasked with making determinations regarding child custody and custody arrangements, they must do what is in the child’s best interest. This requires them to weigh several factors, including the following:

  • The child’s age and health
  • The relationship the child has with each parent
  • Both parents’ mental and physical health
  • Which parent has been the primary caregiver to date
  • Each parent’s ability to provide for the child
  • Each parent’s degree of involvement in the child’s life
  • Whether there is any history of abuse

Factors vary by state but aim to give judges a strong basis for decisions regarding child custody.

Usually, a child’s preferences hold no weight in the judge’s decision, unless the child is of a certain age. For example, in some states, if a child is 12 or older, the judge may consider the child’s wishes. However, no matter the child’s age, a judge will never base their entire decision on the child’s desires. 

Weighing important factors can help a judge determine whether giving a parent full custody would be best for the child’s health, happiness, and future. 

Understanding Military Rights 

Service members are afforded rights under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA). Among the many benefits under the Act, military members can expect:

  • Postponement of legal matters: If a servicemember is deployed, they can have their court cases postponed, including those related to child custody. 
  • Protection against default judgment: Failing to file a response with the court for a legal matter can result in a default judgment. However, if a military member is deployed, the Act protects against default judgments. 

There is a certain element of unpredictability for military service members, which can make it difficult to deal with legal matters. Fortunately, the law protects military members, providing peace of mind amid legal chaos, like child custody battles. 

Work with an Unbundled Lawyer to Get Full Custody

Having a child custody lawyer that is experienced in handling custody cases for military parents is crucial. An unbundled lawyer can assist with your custody matter. 

Unbundled lawyers are available to provide valuable legal guidance when you need it most. They work on a “pay as you go” basis, meaning you only have to pay for services rendered. This can help ensure you get the help you need while keeping costs low.

Unbundled Legal Help can match you with the right unbundled lawyer in your area. If you’re facing a child custody matter, don’t go at it alone. Contact Unbundled Legal Help today to get started.

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