How to Gain Legal Custody of a Child

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"Legal custody" is a term that describes the right to make major decisions about a child's upbringing and well-being. A parent or guardian who has legal custody of a child has the legal right to make decisions regarding a child's health care, education, activities and other formative factors of the child's life. A court may grant legal custody to both parents (shared) or one parent (sole). In cases where the courts grant sole custody, only the parent who has legal custody has the legal right to make these decisions.

Legal Custody

Determine if you have a right to file a complaint for legal custody of the child in question. Legal custody cannot be obtained over the objections of parents who are deemed fit. If you feel the parents are not fit, you must prove this in a court of law before you can gain legal custody. If you are a parent who has not lost her parental rights, you only have to prove that your having legal custody is in the best interest of your child.

Go to the proper courthouse and file what is typically called a "Complaint for Custody." Be prepared to pay a filing fee. Fill out everything on the form to the best of your knowledge. This will prevent unnecessary lag time while the court looks for more information from you or the defendant.

Wait for a response from the court in the mail. It will inform you of a date for you to appear in court. Your first visit will be for mediation and/or pretrial. This will require you and the defendant to speak with a mediator in an attempt to come to an agreement. If you reach an agreement, it will go before a court official.

Bring the facts you have, witness lists and agreements with you to your pretrial hearing. This is so the judge can determine if you and the defendant have come to a logical agreement and to clarify the case for the judge. The judge will then determine if the case needs to go to trial.

Remember that as the plaintiff the burden of proof is on you. When you go to trial, you have to provide evidence to the effect that granting legal custody of the child to you is in the best interest of the child. Present all of your evidence at the trial and wait for the judge's decision.


  • Custody proceedings can be long and complicated.
  • You may have to go to court numerous times before the judge reaches a decision.


  • If you can afford one, hire a lawyer who is familiar with custody law.
  • Do as much research on your particular situation as possible.
  • When in court, do not talk over other parties. Wait for your turn to speak.
  • Be respectful in court.


About the Author

Shelly Barclay began writing in 1990, focusing on fiction. She has been writing nonfiction articles since 2008. Her work appears on various websites, focusing on topics such as history, cooking, scrapbooking, travel and animals. Before she began writing, Barclay was a line cook for 10 years.