As a family law attorney, I often hear some variation of the following: I want full custody; I am afraid my spouse/significant other will fight for full custody; my friend got full custody; can I get full custody?
In New Jersey, there are two main types of custody and “full” is not one of them; there is legal custody (sole or joint) and physical custody (sole or joint). Joint legal custody shared by two parents allows them to have decision-making power and input over a child’s health, safety, education, and welfare. For example, joint legal custodians can both have access to a child’s medical records. It is possible for a parent to have joint legal custody but not really be involved in the child’s life on a consistent basis. In fact, it is relatively rare in New Jersey for one parent to have sole legal custody to the exclusion of the other parent.
Physical custody, as opposed to legal custody, is the amount of time a child actually spends with a parent. “Joint” or “shared” physical custody typically means that the parents have 50/50 parenting time. Sole physical custody can mean that the non-custodial parent either has “parenting time” with the child or no parenting time at all.
So, when I hear that a client wants “full custody”, I have to ask whether that client truly does not want the other parent to have any contact with the child or any say in his/her upbringing. The vast majority of the time, the answer is, of course, no; that parent generally does want the other parent involved in the child’s life to some degree. Essentially, by “full custody”, a client typically means he/she wants the child to live primarily with him/her and spend less physical time with the other parent.
The situations where a parent truly wants “full custody” (which can, realistically, only mean sole legal and sole physical custody) are few and far between. Even more rare is a Court actually imposing such restrictions.