If you want to gain sole custody of your child, there are some factors a judge may consider before ordering this. The primary factor to be considered is the welfare of the child, so when it is evident that there are undesirable conditions present, the court might refuse to order child custody to your ex and even limit visitation. Below are five instances when you can gain sole custody of your child.
1. You have been the main caretaker, and your child is still preschool age.
Some studies show that small children up to the age of six feel more secure when they are allowed to spend the majority of time with their main caretaker or "attachment figure." If they are forced to spend nights away from the care-taking parent, this can damage the close bond they have with the attachment figure and foster insecurity.
A court may award custody to the parent who is the primary caretaker and has a safe environment to raise the child. If the ex wants shared custody, it may be recommended that the parent wait to request a modification of the custody arrangement until the child is older.
2. A move could prove disruptive to your child's life.
If you want to move far away and take the child, your ex may try to gain sole custody for this purpose. A judge may sympathize if either of you can present evidence that this would provide benefit to the child. Examples of this would be:
- the move would allow the child to spend more time with and receive support from extended family.
- you or your ex needs to relocate to keep a job or to advance in order to provide an adequate living for the child.
- the move would get the child out of an undesirable environment.
If it can be shown that your ex is wanting to move and gain custody primarily to limit your access to the child, and/or the move would be disruptive to the child's life, then the judge could rule in your behalf. Example of disruption could be that if allowed to move, the child would be taken away from extended family and friends, have to change schools, and have a harder time being close to you.
3. Your ex's behavior presents a danger to the child.
If your ex has had a jaded past, this is usually not grounds for reducing contact with a parent. However, if you can show that your ex's current condition/behavior presents a danger to your child, the court may deny custody to that parent, and could limit contact to supervised visitation. Harmful conditions include:
- the parent is mentally unstable and their behavior could be harmful to the child,
- They are have a substance abuse problem and refuse to get treatment,
- they are facing serious criminal charges,
- they are abusive to the child
- it is likely they will snatch/kidnap the child away from you.
4. The ex's living conditions are not good for your child.
If your ex is living in a place that is unsafe for your children to stay in for any length of time or they don't have the basic amenities that a child needs, this could harm an ex's chances for custody. If your ex has custody but you can show that they are danger, you should contact your state's child protective services (CPS) agency. Things CPS will look at are
- the cleanliness and orderliness of the home,
- the areas where the child sleeps and plays, and whether there is adequate space/furniture,
- whether there are adequate food/supplies for the child,
- whether there is evidence of drug or other illegal activities going on in the home,
- whether there is any evidence that the ex (or their partner if they have one) is abusing the child.
5. Your ex is destroying your relationship with your child through parental alienation and sabotage.
Sabotage includes your ex ignoring visitation orders or disrupting visitations, and parental alienation is an active ongoing campaign by your ex to ruin your relationship with your child. This can be done by manipulating the child emotionally -- rewarding them for being mean to you or punishing them for wanting to be with you. It can also include talking badly about you to friends and relatives in front of the child or encouraging the child to do so.
For legal advice on these aspects of custody issues, you should contact a family practice lawyer like Warfield Darrah & Erdmann. Proving parental alienation, abuse or other harmful factors can be difficult, so your lawyer may recommend hiring an psychological expert to help with the situation and to testify about their findings, if necessary.