What Are the Chances of a Father Getting Full Custody?

For so long, custody for fathers meant a weekends-only schedule or other limited parenting time. But changing family dynamics have led to a sea change in the outcome of custody cases.

The chances of a father getting full custody are climbing. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, fathers made up 20 percent of custodial parents in 2018, up from 16 percent in 1994.

Still, full custody for fathers is far less common than full custody for mothers. Whether this is due to bias against fathers is a hotly debated topic. Overall, many courts prefer awarding joint custody to both parents.

Custody cases don't change much when two dads are at odds. The vast majority of the tips below still apply in this situation.

In general, fathers seeking full custody should expect a custody battle. They'll have to build a case that shows their child would benefit from living primarily in their care.

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Mothers' rights versus fathers' rights

Parents essentially have the same rights to custody — so long as the court recognizes them as the child's legal parents.

A mother is automatically the legal parent of any child she gives birth to, regardless of marital status. Unmarried fathers must establish paternity. You should get proof that you're the child's biological father (or legal father) before you pursue full custody. Many states won't even allow you to start a custody case if the child's paternity is unknown.

Courts cannot discriminate against a parent based on gender. Yet the best interest of the child standard is more likely to favor mothers since they are often the primary caregivers for children. For a father in a custody battle, proving parental fitness is key.

How to get child custody for fathers

Custody decisions ultimately come down to which parent presents the more convincing case. Here are some ways a father can improve their chances of getting custody.

Prepare a parenting plan

Most dads — and moms as well — benefit from making a parenting plan with their ex. With a judge's approval, the plan becomes the final custody order.

If the mother agrees to sign a plan that gives you full custody, you can save thousands of dollars by skipping a trial.

If the mother isn't willing to give up custody, consider agreeing to joint custody in a plan. The court is likely to award this anyway when two capable parents want custody, so an agreement can get you out in front of the situation.

If you struggle to negotiate a parenting plan, try an alternative dispute resolution method like mediation, where a third party will help you compromise.

When you can't agree on a plan, proposing one in court is a good way to prove you've thought out how you'll handle parenting and visitation.

Establish and maintain a relationship with your child

If you go to court, you'll likely have to answer questions about how close you are to your child. Make sure you know their grade level, teachers' names, interests and other details that show you're an active part of their life.

Even if the child's mother won't let you see them, you should still make an effort to foster a relationship with your child. Any proof that the mother got in the way of this happening could help your case.

In some states, the child's preference factors into the custody decision. The better the child knows you, the more comfortable they'll feel spending more time with you.

Prove you can care for your child

The court will consider who has been the child's primary caretaker.

If you haven't already, start taking on caretaking duties to show the court you can handle them. Keep a journal to document how you care for your child — for example, by feeding them and taking them to doctor's appointments.

Also, show the court you can dedicate the time required for full custody. If you work, have reliable child care lined up.

Consider asking for character reference letters from friends, family members and others who can vouch for what you've done (or tried to do) for your child.

Have space in your home for your child

The court will want to know the child will have a safe place to live. Prepare a bedroom for your child and take photos to show in court. If you have a baby or toddler, you'll also have to childproof your home.

Provide financial support for your child

Make sure to buy necessities for your child. You have an obligation to provide for your child even if they don't live with you.

If you have a court order for child support, make the payments on time. Ask for a modification of the amount if you're struggling to pay.

Get receipts for each purchase and child support payment in case the other parent denies that you contributed.

Keep records of visitation

Make a calendar that shows when you spend time with your child. If the child's mother denies visits, save proof (text messages, etc.) to show how she's interfered with your relationship with your child.

Be kind to your ex

Because conflict is bad for children, the judge will look at you more favorably if you at least try to get along with your ex. Your ex could use any antagonistic messages or social media posts against you in court. If you need help behaving well, limit your interaction outside of mediation or use parent messaging from Custody X Change, which alerts you before send a potentially-hostile message.

The court considers whether a parent will let the other have an active role in the child's life. Treating your child's mother respectfully will help assure the court that you'll keep a place for her in your child's life.

Hire a lawyer

Getting full custody for fathers can be tricky. Lawyers — especially those who specialize in father's rights — are best equipped for the job.

In addition to understanding the law, lawyers likely know the personalities and preferences of the family court judges in your area, so they can prepare your case accordingly.

Make a good impression in court

The way you act in court impacts your chances of getting full custody. Show up on time, dress properly (dark suit and dress shoes), treat everyone in the courthouse with respect and don't talk out of turn.

Don't count yourself out

Many fathers feel defeated before they even step into the courtroom.

Remember: the parent who proves they can best provide for the child's needs will get custody. Putting together solid evidence could give you the confidence to show the judge you can handle full custody. Even if you don't get full custody in the final order, you can ask for more parenting time or a change in custody later.

Child custody cases where the father wins

In certain circumstances, full custody for fathers is more likely. However, you shouldn't see custody as something you can "win." Never pursue full custody if your only goal is to hurt your ex. The number one priority should be the health and well-being of your child.

A father who has been the child's primary caretaker has a better chance of getting full custody. The court prefers to minimize change for the child and is more likely to place them with the parent they're most familiar with.

When the mother has substance abuse issues or untreated mental illness or has abused or neglected the child, the father has a good chance of getting full custody. The father will need to prove in court that awarding the mother custody could endanger the child's well-being.

Child custody could come down to availability. If the mother has a busy work schedule, the court may determine the father has more time to dedicate to the child. With this, of course, the father would need to prove he's capable of caring for the child.

Preparing for court as a father

When you're a father fighting for full custody of your child, preparation is key. Custody X Change can help.

To set up the perfect custody and visitation schedule, click on the "calendar" tab. You can also enter the schedule you currently follow.

Above the calendar, you'll see time-share and overnight percentages. The printable report could prove you have been your child's primary caregiver, boosting your case.

Clicking on the "parenting plan" tab allows you to design a parenting plan you can give the court to show you're prepared for a future with your child.

Use Custody X Change to show the court why you deserve full custody of your child. It can save you thousands in lawyer fees.

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