When a couple with children decides to end their marriage, the primary concern for the courts is ensuring that the children involved are still being raised in a safe and caring home. In most cases, the two parents will share custody of the children, dividing up time spent with the kids and consulting with one another over decisions that affect the child’s life.

In some cases, however, one of the parents is not in a position to provide the kind of loving, supportive home that children need to flourish. In those cases, the court will often award one parent sole custody. In this month’s article, we’ll explore some of the reasons why a parent may be granted sole custody of their children, and why you need solid legal representation if you choose to pursue sole custody.

Two Types of Custody

Georgia law, and the law in most other states, recognizes two types of custody: legal and physical.

Legal custody refers to a parent’s right to make decisions for their child regarding such things as schooling, medical treatments, extracurricular activities, diet, and thousands of other things. When two parents share legal custody, they must work together to make decisions together. When a parent has sole legal custody, they are allowed to make all decisions for the child without considering the other parent’s wishes.

Physical custody refers to which parent the child lives with. Physical custody can be divided evenly between two parents, with the child living half of their time with one parent and half with the other. Physical custody can be unevenly split, with the child spending more than half of their time with one parent and less than half with the other. Or, one parent can be granted sole physical custody – the child lives with them throughout the year and only sees the other parent during scheduled or negotiated visitation.

For this article, “sole custody” or “full custody” refers to having sole legal and physical custody of a child.

What Are the Grounds For Full Custody of My Child?

The courts always prefer to avoid sole custody arrangements. For decades now, the majority of family courts have operated on the assumption that engagement with both parents is the best option for most children and will default to a shared custody arrangement if there is no evidence to support a sole custody situation.

However, when one parent has demonstrated behaviors or has a living situation that is dangerous or potentially damaging to a child’s upbringing, the court will hear evidence and determine whether the parents should share custody or not.

Some of the behaviors or living situations that can lead to a sole custody arrangement include:


If one parent has a history of abuse, including physical, emotional, or sexual abuse, the courts will generally recognize that pattern of abuse as being harmful to the child’s upbringing and place the child with the other parent full-time.

Mental Illness

Any mental health issue that renders one parent emotionally unstable, erratic, or irrational could also present a danger to a child. If the court determines that a parent’s mental illness would prevent safe parenting, the other parent will receive sole custody.

Alcohol/Drug Problems

You can’t provide adequate care for a child if you’re intoxicated. A parent who is currently experiencing drug or alcohol abuse problems will generally not be considered a valid candidate to raise a child, resulting in a sole custody arrangement with the other parent.


Failing to provide a child with proper medical care, inability to get them to school on time, and providing inadequate supervision – these are all forms of neglect. If one parent has been routinely neglectful, the other will likely receive full custody.


Joint custody arrangements are extremely complicated if parents live in different states or countries. If one parent moves away, the courts may elect to award sole custody to the parent who can keep the child in their existing home and school.


A parent in prison is not able to care for a child. If a parent is incarcerated, particularly for a violent, sexual, or drug crime, the courts will likely award sole custody to the parent who remains at liberty.


If one parent has shown no interest in a child and failed to stay in contact with them before or during a separation or divorce, the courts may consider that abandonment and award the other parent sole custody.

What Do I Need to Gain Full Custody?

Remember that the courts prefer to establish joint custody situations so that a child can engage with both parents. In order to establish a sole custody arrangement, you’ll need to do one of two things:

  • Come up with a sole custody agreement that both parents can agree on and present it to the court.
  • Prove to the court that the other parent is incapable of providing a stable and safe environment for the child or children.

The court will need to see evidence that the other parent is incapable of performing their role in raising children. If you have legal representation, your attorney will work with you to collect documents and records, identify witnesses, and build your case to convince the court that your home is the right place for your child.

If you don’t have legal representation, you should. Not only will a compassionate family lawyer help you with the procedural and legal aspects of filing for sole custody, but they will also guide you through the process, help manage your expectations, and give you honest assessments of the case’s progress at every step of the way.

If You Need to File for Sole Custody, We Can Help: Call EMC Family Law Today!

If you are divorcing, separating, or need to change an existing custody agreement and are seeking sole custody, choose a legal team that understands how family courts think about custody. Give us a call and let us guide you through your next steps: 770-225-7000

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