Full Custody- It’s Not a Thing

Posted on: July 13th, 2017

About half of parents with whom I provide an initial consultation have the goal of obtaining “full custody” of their children.  In the eyes of the law “full custody” isn’t a thing.

There are two types of custody: legal custody and physical care.  Legal custody refers to the right to make decisions for your child’s upbringing and well-being.  A parent with legal custody rights has the right to participate in decision making for his or her child in terms of the child’s education, legal status, medical care, religious instruction, etc.  Examples of exercising legal custody of your child include providing consent for your child to have his appendix removed and the decision to change your child’s school.

In Iowa there is a strong preference for joint legal custody, unless there is a history of domestic abuse.  Other factors, such as substance abuse or great discord between the parents, may support an award of sole legal custody but it is rare.  To award sole legal custody, the court must find, by clear and convincing evidence, that joint legal custody is unreasonable and not in the best interest of the child.  Iowa Code section 598.41.  Joint legal custody is awarded in the vast majority of cases, wherein both parents maintain rights to contribute to decisions made for their child.

Physical care is what most people think of when they hear the word “custody.”  Physical care refers to where the child lives most of the time.  Under Iowa law there are two models.  Under “joint” or “shared” physical care, both parents have the right and responsibility to maintain a home for the child, and child spends equal, or close to equal, time with both parents.  Under this model, the parent who earns more, makes a monthly payment to the other parent, to account for disparity in income, and then the parents share expenses for the children.

The other model is primary custody.  Where one parent is awarded primary physical care of the child, that parent has the right and responsibility to maintain a home for the child.  The other parent, almost always has set parenting time (visitation) with the child.  The custodial parent receives child support and is then typically responsible for all common and routine expenses for the child, including child care costs, extracurricular activities, etc.  Medical expenses are handled differently.  I find that most parents who express a desire for “full custody” mean that they seek an award of primary physical care.

These are the basics of custody.  Every case is different.  What is appropriate for your family, and your goals, should depend on the unique facts of your case.  If you want to discuss your case and the type of custody that a court might award in your case, please call me at 515-245-4300.

Jaclyn Zimmerman

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