How to Get Full Custody of a Child in Florida

Full custody of a child in Florida is rare. It can be done if joint custody would endanger the child, but you will need evidence to prove it in court. Our full custody lawyers at the O’Mara Law Group understand what is at stake, and we are committed to helping you achieve the best possible outcome for you and your child.

Written and edited by our team of expert legal content writers and reviewed and approved by Attorney Mark O’Mara

Content last updated on: December 11, 2023

If you have full custody in Florida, also known as sole custody, it would mean you have sole decision-making power, and the child lives with you exclusively. It is the public policy of the state of Florida that a child must have close and continuing contact with both parents. To comply with this, the family courts award joint custody by default.

However, the law recognizes that close and continuing contact with the other parent is not always safe for the child. The experienced child custody lawyers at the O’Mara Law Group understand how important it is to protect your child. We are committed to doing whatever it takes to help you avoid a joint custody arrangement that would endanger your child.

Hiring an Experienced Full Custody Lawyer in Florida

Our Orlando divorce lawyers at The O’Mara Law Group have been helping parents through difficult custody battles for more than 30 years. We are committed to guiding and supporting you through every step of the process.

When your child’s safety is at stake, you can count on us to fight for you and your child and give your case the personalized attention it deserves. If domestic violence jeopardizes your safety, we will work with local resources and law enforcement to keep you safe. We will also work to maintain confidentiality about your location throughout the proceedings.

Our founder, Mark O’Mara, is a Board Certified Family Lawyer and a Supreme Court Certified Family Mediator. He mentors other attorneys and has taught law students at prestigious colleges and universities such as Harvard Law School, Florida State University School of Law, and Duquesne School of Law.

Our award-winning team of family lawyers has received such designations as Super Lawyer, Ones to Watch, and a Martindale-Hubbell A.V. Preeminent rating for outstanding ethics and client satisfaction.

Grounds for Full Custody in Florida

You have grounds to receive full custody if shared custody would endanger the child. This requires proof that the parent is unfit. Examples of circumstances that may make a parent unfit include the following:

  • A physical inability to care for the child
  • Unwillingness to care for the child
  • Substance abuse
  • Attempts to flee the state with the child
  • Previous non-compliance with the visitation schedule
  • Inability or refusal to provide a safe, stable home for the child
  • History of abandonment or neglect
  • History of child abuse
  • Certain violent criminal offenses

If the court does determine that joint custody would harm the child, it may award custody without visitation or with a visitation arrangement that protects the child’s safety. Such arrangements may include supervised visitation, depending on the court’s assessment of the circumstances.

The law provides a rebuttable presumption that a joint custody arrangement would endanger the child’s safety if any of the following is true of the other parent:

The court can easily verify these circumstances through state records. Even if there is no domestic violence or child abuse conviction, the court must consider evidence of such abuse.

When can parental rights be terminated?

According to Florida Statute § 39.806, the court may terminate the other parent’s parental rights on a petition by the Florida Department of Children and Families in the following circumstances:

  • The child is in the department’s custody, and the parent voluntarily surrendered their parental rights.
  • The department has determined the parent is a danger to the child.
  • The parent is incarcerated for a period expected to last throughout a significant portion of the child’s minority.
  • The parent is incarcerated and has been designated a violent career criminal, a habitual violent felony offender, or a sexual predator.
  • The parent is incarcerated and has been convicted of first- or second-degree murder or another capital offense.
  • The department believes a continuing relationship with the parent would harm the child.
  • The parent failed to complete the required reunification plan, and the child has been in the department’s care for at least 12 of the past 22 months.
  • The parent has committed egregious conduct against the child, such as abandonment or child abuse.

Termination of parental rights is the only permanent method that legally severs the parent-child relationship.

Evidence Needed to Gain Full Custody

The court will not take you at your word that the other parent is unfit. You must prove the parent’s unfitness by a preponderance of the evidence. When you retain the O’Mara Law Group, we will perform a detailed investigation to uncover sufficient evidence to satisfy the court. The court will need such evidence as the following:

  • A public criminal record
  • Police reports
  • Video evidence
  • Recordings
  • Copies of written threats
  • Eye witnesses
  • Evaluation by a licensed psychologist or other professional accepted by the court.
  • Written recommendations of a guardian ad litem, mediator, or parent coordinator
  • Statements made by the child

Types of Custody in Florida

It is possible to have both joint and full custody in Florida because the court awards two types of custody:

  • Parental responsibility – Also known as legal custody, this is the decision-making authority of each parent.
  • Parenting time – Also known as physical custody or visitation, this is the amount of time the child spends with each parent.

The court generally awards equal parental responsibility to both parents unless you can prove it would harm the child if the other parent has decision-making authority. The court can award sole parental responsibility to one parent while still awarding parenting time to both.

Why is it so hard to get full custody in Florida?

The court is mandated to act in the best interests of a child, and the state has determined that it is generally in the best interests of children to maintain close and continuing relationships with both parents. This policy is backed by research.
According to the American Psychological Association, children in joint custody arrangements who spend substantial time with both parents enjoy the following benefits:

  • Higher self-esteem
  • Better family relationships
  • Higher academic performance

These children tend to be as well-adjusted as their peers in intact two-parent families. In light of this, the courts generally frown upon requesting full custody. It could appear you are disregarding the child’s best interest by seeking to deprive the child of a relationship with the other parent. However, you may persuade the court to buck the policy if you prove a real danger to the child.

The court must carefully weigh whether maintaining the parent-child relationship with the other parent will harm the child more than removing the parent from the child’s life. Sometimes, the court will agree that choosing the latter will better serve the child’s best interests.

Does full custody impact child support?

Losing custody does not absolve the other parent from paying child support. In fact, if the other parent has no overnight visits, the child support obligation may be higher. That is because there would have been deductions for time spent with the child if the parent had joint custody. Our child support attorneys can help you calculate the child support you should receive.

However, if the other parent’s parental rights are terminated, the parent-child relationship is legally severed, and there is generally no ongoing child support obligation.

Is full custody permanent?

If you receive a full custody award, the arrangement remains in place until the child turns 18 unless the court orders a modification at your request or the other parent’s request. The other parent can request a custody modification based on changed circumstances, which requires proof of a significant, material, and unanticipated change.

Examples of changes the court might consider for a custody modification include the following:

  • Rehabilitation from substance abuse or other disorders
  • Recovery or remission from a long-term illness
  • Drastic changes in the parent’s moral fitness
  • A new record of maintaining gainful employment
  • Unexpected release from incarceration

The fact that the parent has requested a custody modification does not mean the court will grant it. However, the court will consider the request using the best interests of the child standard. The court will carefully consider the safety concerns and potential disruption in the child’s life against the benefits of resuming the parental relationship.

If you are served a petition for modification of custody, contacting an experienced child custody lawyer is imperative. If you do not respond to the petition within 20 days, the other parent can file a Motion of Default and win custody.

How the O'Mara Law Group Can Help with Your Custody Case

Once we determine your case qualifies for full custody, we will get right to work gathering the evidence needed to prove this to the court. This may involve an extensive process of doing the following:

  • Interviewing witnesses
  • Retaining domestic violence experts
  • Obtaining recordings
  • Analyzing public records
  • Consulting with mental health professionals
  • Retaining private investigation services
  • Collecting medical records
  • Gathering photographic evidence

If your case does not qualify for full custody, we will be upfront with you about this and work with you to find a satisfactory custody arrangement that addresses your concerns and best serves your child.

Getting full custody is challenging in Florida, even for many attorneys. Our lawyers know what it takes to show the court why full custody would serve your child’s best interests. We also know how to keep you and your child safe throughout the proceedings. Contact us today for a confidential consultation.

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