Difference Between Temporary & Full Custody

By Cindy Chung

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Temporary and full custody result in separate legal effects and require specific legal procedures. Additionally, temporary custody and full custody have different meanings between juvenile court and family court. Parents with child custody concerns should research the laws enacted by their own states, as they need to understand state-specific legal terms and requirements. An attorney or state court's self-help center may be able to provide detailed legal information regarding a state's temporary and full custody laws.

Procedures for Temporary Custody

In juvenile court, the state may take temporary custody of a child during investigation of potential harm such as child neglect or abuse. When the state has temporary custody, the court can require that the child live in an out-home-placement such as with a relative or another guardian, or in foster care. However, temporary custody serves a different purpose in family court. In divorce or parentage cases currently in litigation, state family law courts often issue temporary orders that assign custodial rights to one or both parents and temporarily determine the child's residence while the parents have ongoing court proceedings.

Legal Effects of Temporary Custody

Temporary custody in a juvenile dependency case means that the state has custody of the child while the state courts decide whether to return the child to his home or keep the child in out-of-home care and permanently terminate the parents' custodial rights. In ongoing divorce or parentage cases, temporary orders generally have legal significance only until the parties resolve their case or the court issues a permanent order or final judgment.

Procedures for Full Custody

When parents prevail in juvenile dependency proceedings to recover custody of their children from the state's child welfare agency, they generally regain full custody rights. Legal disputes regarding full custody can also arise during divorce cases or parentage actions, or as separate custody cases. In these disputes, the parties disagree about the permanent arrangements for each parent's rights to custody. Parents can eventually agree to a custody arrangement or have the court issue an order if they cannot make their own agreement. Even after a state court has made permanent orders regarding child custody, parents can still file paperwork requesting changes to those orders.

Legal Effects of Full Custody

States use varying legal terms to describe ongoing, permanent custody arrangements when parents have child custody disagreements with each other. The legal significance of "full custody" depends on each state's child custody laws. Some states have created separate rights to physical custody, which allows a parent to have child live with her and make daily child-rearing decisions, and to legal custody, which allows a parent to make long-term child-rearing decisions related to education, health and other important areas. Parents can share joint rights or one parent may have sole rights. In some states, the courts prefer to grant joint custody, with both parents sharing parental rights to legal custody unless the court believes that custody for one parent would be inappropriate or unsafe. Even when both parents have full legal custody rights, the child may still live primarily with the parent who has sole physical custody and visit the other parent regularly.

Read More: What Does Full Custody Mean?