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How Does a Mother Get Full Custody?

By Mike Broemmel ; Updated June 13, 2017

State laws across the country give a mother full custody of a child under certain circumstances. For example, the courts often order full or sole custody in favor of a mother when the father is unavailable or unable to make major life decisions or provide a residence for the child, according to the American Bar Association Section of Family Law.


Prior to the 1980s, the statutes and court procedures in the United States presumed a preference for maternal custody of children in divorce, legal separation and paternity cases, according to the American Bar Association Section of Family Law. Now there is more gender equality when it comes to child custody orders, according to "Nolo's Essential Guide to Divorce" by Emily Doskow.


The process for a mother to get full custody begins with the filing of a motion in the court in the county where the child resides. Such a motion typically is part of a divorce, legal separation or paternity case. The motion sets forth the essential facts supporting why the mother should get custody of the child and why the father should not share custody.


The primary consideration in awarding a mother full custody is what is in the best interests of the child, according to Cornell University Law School. All states use the standard of best interests of the child in determining custody. In reviewing a motion for sole custody, the court also examines the physical and mental health of all parties. Other factors include which parent provided primary care for the child as well as the nature of the current residences of the parents.


As part of the process of obtaining full custody, the mother must present the court with the benefits of such an arrangement. Benefits of sole custody with a mother tend to include the assertion that the arrangement is most suitable to protecting the health, safety and welfare of a child. For example, if a father is incarcerated, he is not in a position to provide a residence for a child and probably is not well situated to make major life decisions for that minor.

Expert Assistance

A mother who wants to get full legal custody of a child should consider retaining legal counsel. Custody cases are challenging and emotional legal procedures, and having an experienced lawyer can increase a mother's chances of obtaining full custody. Local and state bar associations across the country provide directories of lawyers, including information on their areas of practice. The American Bar Association provides contact information for these state and local associations.

American Bar Association 321 N. Clark St. Chicago, IL 60654-7598 312-988-5000

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