Santa Barbara Divorce Attorney & Family Law Lawyer


(805) 879-7523

What Qualifies for Full Custody in California?

May 3, 2024 | Child Custody

Some of the most contentious issues to resolve in family law involve the health and well-being of children. This is especially true in divorce cases where both parting spouses may have major disagreements on what the most favorable arrangement for their children is. Many parents are left with questions such as, “What qualifies for full custody in California?” Having a solid grasp of custody law can help you navigate your own unique family situation.

One of the most popular custody arrangements in court is joint custody, which is when parents split how much time they spend with their children. In addition, both parents continue to have legal rights to make decisions for their children. Full custody, by contrast, is typically granted in cases where one parent is deemed unsuitable or uninterested in parenting their children. A Santa Barbara child custody lawyer can help you determine what custody arrangement suits your needs.

What qualifies for full custody in California?

Understanding Full Custody

There are two different full custody arrangements in California. The first is sole legal custody, which is where one parent is awarded special privileges to make major life decisions on behalf of the child. For example, medical decisions that need to be made if the child becomes ill and needs special treatment would be the responsibility of the parent with legal custody. In this scenario, while the parent without authority can voice their opinion, there is no legal requirement for the other parent to honor their wishes.

The other arrangement is sole physical custody, which determines where the child lives. With sole physical custody, one parent is granted full-time physical custody while the other parent is given appropriate visitation rights. In joint custody arrangements, however, a child will typically split their time between both residences.

Full Custody Criteria

The largest focus in any custody battle is the well-being of the children involved. The ideal situation for the court is to create an arrangement where both parents have space to keep a bond with their child. However, certain conditions impact a court’s ability to honor this objective. Some of the most common reasons include:

History of Abuse

If either parent can produce evidence that their ex-partner has abused their child, it could risk that parent’s access to joint custody or perhaps even their visitation rights. Abuse is not limited to just physical violence, like hitting or shoving. It also includes emotional and sexual abuse that indicates a child will not be safe if left alone with the parent.

Substance Abuse

Consuming drugs and alcohol can influence how well an individual can be an effective parent. Being under the influence can negatively impact one’s ability to exercise sound judgment. For example, a parent who decides to operate a vehicle under the influence while the kids are in the car is unable to make wise choices for their children.


If one parent is looking to obtain full legal and physical custody, providing evidence that the other parent has abandoned the child in the past could help to remove their parental rights. Abandonment could include any specific events where the parent demonstrated an obvious lack of interest in upholding their responsibilities to the child. For example, they might forget to pick their child up from school consistently or leave them home alone when they’re too young to care for themselves.

Mental Health Issues

Outside of intentional actions and neglectful behavior, an individual’s mental health status could also prevent them from being awarded child custody. If the court has any indication that a parent’s mental health status could impact their ability to parent, they will likely require a mental health evaluation from a licensed mental health professional to help make a final custody decision.

These are some of the most common reasons why someone would not qualify for child custody, especially full custody. If neither parent has any of these issues or any other problems brought up by the court, their likelihood of being awarded shared custody increases. Generally, the courts prefer joint to sole custody or some agreement that involves both parents, as the goal is for children to keep their relationships with their parents and be as healthy as possible.


Q: Do Moms Automatically Have Full Custody in California?

A: No, moms do not automatically have full custody in California. Just because someone is deemed a “mother” does not grant them any specific legal privilege. The state will always prioritize the most advantageous arrangement for a child regardless of a parent’s gender. The court will analyze each parent’s relationship with the child and determine if they will still have the ability to provide a safe and stable home as they enter their new independent lives.

Q: What Is the Most Common Custody Arrangement in California?

A: Joint custody is the most common form of custody issued in California. It’s where both parents are expected to make decisions about a child’s life, from day-to-day mundane activities to larger issues like education and medical treatments. Unless there is any evidence to suggest one parent is unfit for custody, the court will work hard to ensure that a child’s bond with both parents will not be disrupted after a divorce is finalized.

Q: Is California a 50/50 State for Custody?

A: While some may claim that California is a “50/50 custody” state, there is no legal obligation for the court to automatically divide custody equally between both parents. However, a 50/50 split is commonly seen after custody battles in California because the courts often work to make this happen. Since there is no legal obligation to ensure a 50/50 split, the courts still have the flexibility to prevent types of custody arrangements when there are legitimate concerns.

Q: Can a Parent Refuse Another Parent’s Visitation Rights?

A: There are no legal grounds for a parent to refuse their ex-partner’s visitation rights alone. To do this, they would need to raise concerns to the court that the other individual is not suited to be an effective parent. This would require specific forms of evidence, such as proof of intoxication while in the presence of a child or abuse, for the court to hear the argument and consider its impact on visitation.

Contact Drury Pullen Law Today

If you are in the middle of a custody battle and need a family law attorney to assist you, contact Drury Pullen Law today. For years, we have helped newly separated families determine what custody arrangement could be the most favorable for them and their new family unit. Contact us today to see how we can be of assistance in your case.

Subscribe to Our Blog


How Are Domestic Violence Cases Handled in California?

Domestic violence is a serious situation that has a drastic impact on the lives of everyone involved. No matter what side of the situation you are on, knowing the law and how the process works in handling these types of cases is crucial for those seeking justice....

How Is Spousal Support Determined in California?

Divorce can be an emotionally trying time, especially when legal and financial matters are considered. Spousal support, better known as alimony, often is a pivotal aspect of divorce settlements, designed to ensure the financial stability of the lesser-earning spouse...

How Does Mediation Work in a Divorce?

It’s not always easy to consider divorce as a journey you’re about to embark on since no one plans for or expects a marriage to end. Divorce can be daunting since it often carries a negative connotation. This is often from the process of litigation and its downsides...

How Long After Mediation Is Divorce Final in California?

Going through a divorce can be an unpleasant and stressful experience for the individuals involved. As such, it’s understandable to want your divorce to be finalized as quickly as possible. Mediation is a solution that can simplify the process of a divorce because it...

How Does Mediation Work in California Divorce?

When considering separating from your spouse or partner, it is important to remember that you have options. Mediation is an alternative to litigation and may save you time and money in your divorce. Many assume that they must turn to the courts for the dissolution of...

Navigating the Legalities of Pet Custody in California

For many Americans, pets are cherished members of the family. These beloved companions bring comfort and unconditional love into our daily lives. However, when human relationships dissolve, questions about pet custody can become emotionally and legally complex. In...

What Is Considered a High-Asset Divorce in Santa Barbara?

The decision to end a marriage and file for divorce is difficult and emotionally devastating. It can overwhelm many people who wonder how they will care for themselves and their families in the wake of potential financial disputes. When a divorcing couple has a large...