What Does Full Custody Mean?

By Beverly Bird

Updated March 30, 2020

Mother and daughters at a beach

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The definition of full custody depends to some extent on where you live and your state's legal jargon. It may mean that you'll have both legal and physical custody. But in some states, it means that you have either sole legal or sole physical custody. If you're not sure what you want to ask the court for as part of your divorce, consult with a local lawyer to make sure you get the terms right for your jurisdiction.

Legal Custody

If you're granted full legal custody, this means you'll have an absolute right to make all important decisions for your children without any input from your spouse. Major decisions relate to things like education, religion or medical care. They don't include day-to-day issues, such as whether your dieting teenager can skip dinner – that falls to the parent she's residing with on that particular day. In some states, the term "full custody" refers only to legal custody. It does not take into consideration which parent your children live with most of the time.

Physical Custody

Physical custody refers to which parent has the children staying at her home most nights of the year. If you receive full physical custody, your spouse may have visitation, or in extreme circumstances – such as if he is incarcerated or his whereabouts are unknown – he may have no contact with your children at all. In some states, such as Missouri, if your spouse has any visitation or parenting time, you have joint physical custody. In other states, having joint physical custody usually means that your children spend roughly an equal number of overnights with each of you.