How to Get Full Custody of a Child as a Mother in California? 2024

By Quinn & Dworakowski, LLP | Aug 24, 2023

Child custody cases are emotionally and legally complex, whether they are part of a divorce or separation case. If you and your spouse or co-parent are in a contentious litigation case, the process is especially distressing.

The California family court makes all decisions regarding children based on the child’s interests, and it assumes that it is in a child’s interests to spend significant time with both parents. However, for some families, joint custody is not in a child’s interests. When you are a mother looking to get full custody to protect your children, it can be difficult to know how to approach the case. A Child Custody Lawyer in Orange County, CA, can help you determine the likelihood of sole custody in your situation and work to argue why sole custody is better for your children. It can help to understand how state courts determine a child’s interests and the grounds for sole custody.

Types of Sole Custody

In California, custody is split into two types. These are:

  • Physical Custody: This refers to where a child primarily lives. When a parent has sole physical custody, it means that a child lives with them and the other parent has certain visitation rights.
  • Legal Custody: This is the right of parents to make health care, educational, and other decisions for their children. Sole legal custody means that only one parent has the right to these important choices and does not have to consult with the other parent.

Often, full custody is a term that refers to sole legal and physical custody, although a custody arrangement could include either joint or sole assignments for both types of custody.

A Child’s Interests

The court’s primary goal for any court case involving children is to provide for the child’s interests. The court determines a child’s interests based on several factors, including:

  • The child’s health, safety, age, and general welfare
  • The stability of each parent’s home environment
  • The relationship between each parent and the child
  • The child’s preference, in some circumstances
  • The child’s connection to their home, school, and surrounding community
  • Each parent’s financial and physical ability to provide basic care for a child
  • Either parent’s continued substance abuse
  • Any history of domestic violence, child abuse, or child neglect from either parent

The court determines the stability of a parent’s home environment based on:

  • Financial stability
  • The child’s emotional and physical safety in the home
  • The parent’s capability to provide shelter, food, and clothing
  • The parent’s ability to provide emotional care and support
  • If a parent is willing to cooperate with their co-parent and encourage a healthy relationship between their child and their co-parent

To gain sole custody, a mother must prove that it is not in a child’s interests for the other parent to have joint custody.

When Does a Court Award Sole Custody?

If parents are unmarried, and there were no legal steps taken by either to establish paternity of the child, then the parent who gave birth to the child is considered the only legal parent. They would be awarded full custody unless they are deemed unfit.

When both parents have full legal rights to a child, sole custody is only awarded if it is in the child’s interests. Situations that enable one parent to gain sole legal and physical custody may include:

  • A parent has a history of proven domestic violence, abuse, or child neglect.
  • A parent is considered legally unfit to care for their child.
  • A parent falsely accuses their co-parent of abuse.
  • A home environment does not provide for a child’s emotional and physical safety.


Q: How Do I Get Legal Custody of My Child in California?

A: Legal custody refers to a parent’s legal ability to make important decisions for their child. The court frequently assigns joint legal custody between two parents, as it assumes that it is in the child’s interest to have both parents have a say in their lives. To petition for and win sole legal custody, you have to prove that it is in your child’s interests. If you can prove that your co-parent is unfit, unable to care for the child’s basic needs, or a danger to the health and welfare of the child, the court may consider this reason to award you sole legal custody.

Q: Is It Easy to Get Full Custody in California?

A: The ability to get sole legal and/or physical custody relies on the unique factors of your specific family and custody case. For one parent to gain sole custody, there must be a reason that it is not in the child’s interests to be in the custody of the other parent. Sole custody is more likely in circumstances where:

  • One parent is a legally unfit parent.
  • A parent has a history of abuse, domestic violence, or child neglect.
  • The court has significant reason to worry about the child’s mental and physical safety with that parent.

Q: How Long Does a Custody Case Take in California?

A: A child custody case may take anywhere from several months to years, depending on your individual situation. A custody case with complex issues, such as multiple children or difficult schedules, will take longer. If parents can reach an agreement through mediation or another alternative dispute resolution, and are trying to cooperate on a parenting plan, the process will likely only take several months. However, if parents cannot reach an agreement, or are unwilling to cooperate from the start, the case enters litigation. Court cases last much longer and are more expensive. How long a court case takes also relies on the court’s availability and schedule.

Q: Does the Mother Automatically Have Full Custody in California?

A: A parent who gave birth to a child only has automatic full custody if they are the only legal and biological parent. This occurs in California when a parent gives birth while unmarried and takes no steps to establish paternity. If a child has two legal parents, the court assumes that both have equal rights and responsibilities to a child, child custody, and child support. This is true regardless of the parents’ genders. For a parent to gain full custody, they must prove to the court why this is in their child’s interests and why it is counter to the child’s interests to be in the custody of the other parent.

Protect Your Children’s Interests

At Quinn & Dworakowski, LLP, we know how complicated and stressful a litigated custody case can be. Contact our firm today and learn how we can bring you the compassionate legal care you need.

Schedule Your Case Strategy

"*" indicates required fields

I Have Read The Disclaimer*
This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

© Copyrights 2024 Quinn & Dworakowski LLP. All Rights reserved Disclaimer|Site Map|Privacy Policy

Digital Marketing By rize-logo