How to File for Full Custody
In most states, custody determinations are split between “legal custody” (decision-making authority) and “physical custody” (residence). Having both decision-making and residential rights is often referred to as “full custody.” If you are a parent attempting to obtain full custody of your child, you will have to open a family law case, petition the court for full custody, and come to an agreement with the other parent or go to court. Follow the directions in this article to file for full custody of your child.
Part One of Four:
Understanding When You Can File for Full Custody Edit
Start a case when you are married. If you are currently married to the other parent, you can petition for custody once you start one of the following cases:
- Divorces, annulments, or legal separations, which are cases you will file if you want to end your marriage with the other parent;
- Domestic violence restraining orders, which you will file if you have been the victim of domestic violence;
- Petitions for custody and support of minor children, which you will file if you and the other parent do not want to get a divorce, but you want to set up a custody arrangement for other reasons; or
- Child support agency cases, which occur when you are the subject of a local child support enforcement case. 
Begin the process when you are not married. If you are not married to the other parent, you can petition for custody once you start one of the following cases:
- Parentage cases, which are filed when parents are not married but have children together;
- Domestic violence restraining orders;
- Petitions for custody and support of minor children, which can also be filed when you and the other parent were never married at all; and
- Child support agency cases. 
Petition the court for custody once you have started your case. After you have opened an appropriate family law case, you will need to file a petition for custody of your child. The remainder of this article will take you through that process.
Part Three of Four:
Preparing for Trial Edit
Understand what you need to prove in court. If you were unable to reach an agreement during mediation, or if your court does not require or offer mediation services, you will have to go to court and tell a judge why you deserve full custody of your child. Since you are asking for full custody, the court will look to a variety of factors to determine what is in the child’s “best interests.”  These factors will differ by state. They will be listed in either a statute passed by the legislature or in a court opinion issued by your state supreme court.
- Courts will look at different factors, depending on the state. Michigan, for example, considers: the love and affection existing between the parties and the child; the ability and willingness of the parties to provide food, shelter, clothing, and medical care; moral fitness of the parent; stability of the custodial environment; and mental and physical health of the parties, among other factors. 
- Among a variety of factors, Kentucky considers the wishes of the child; the child’s adjustment to home, school, and community; the mental and physical health of all individuals involved; as well as the interaction and interrelationship of the child to each parent and to siblings. 
- To find the specific factors for your state, search online for “best interests of the child” and then your state.
- Understanding what you must prove at court will clarify the kinds of evidence you should seek during the discovery process. For example, you will need to prove your physical health, your willingness to provide food and medical care, as well as a stable home environment. You will also need to fend off attacks to these same characteristics.
Engage in discovery. The first pretrial stage you will encounter will be discovery.  During discovery, you will have the opportunity to collect facts, get witness statements, find out what the other party is going to say at trial, and get an idea of how good your case is. 
- If you take part in informal discovery, you may conduct interviews with witnesses, collect documents, and take photographs.  These are all considered informal discovery processes because they are things you can do on your own while working with cooperative people. 
- If you need to use formal discovery, you will utilize various tools to require uncooperative parties to give you information you need.  These tools include: interrogatories, which are written questions the other party must answer; depositions, which are in-person interviews with an opposing party or witness; requests for documents, which asks the other party to produce documents you want to see; and requests for admissions, which will involve you asking another party whether certain statements are true. 
Meet for a custody evaluation. Oftentimes, during the preliminary stages of a custody lawsuit, the court will require you and the other parent to go through a custody evaluation, which will then be submitted to the court. A custody evaluation will usually be a report, written by a professional, opining on the parenting skills and abilities of you and the other party.
- You will likely have to take part in multiple interviews, some being conducted with the other party and others being conducted alone.  The evaluator will ask questions to try and determine if giving you full custody will be in the best interests of the child. For example, you may be asked, “How do you show love for the child?” 
- Also, you may be asked to provide the evaluator with community and school records. The evaluator may want school records, such as disciplinary violations, or a record of the community activities the child participates in. You will need to sign a release for the evaluator to access them. 
- The evaluator may also want a “home record.” This consists of information about the child’s behavior (outgoing or withdrawn), as well discipline problems and relationships with siblings. 
Schedule your trial. Towards the end of your preparations for trial, you will have to schedule a time to actually conduct the trial. To do this, contact the clerk of courts and request a trial date. You may have to go in front of a judge in order to convince them that the trial date that is set will work for both parties and that everyone will be prepared.