How to File for Sole or Joint Custody of Your Child

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If you've gone through a divorce or breakup that involves minor children, you need to know how to file for child custody. When a parent decides to file, it may be difficult to determine where to go and with whom to speak. The process of filing for custody differs in each state. However, there are general court procedures that every state has in common.

Use the guide below to explore a step-by-step process for filing for child custody.

Filing for Custody

Determine the rules and procedures of your specific state court. Visit the court clerk's office, as they can offer you the best assistance with a child custody case. A clerk can explain rules and procedures to you. Explain to the clerk that you're interested in initiating a child custody suit. Be nice to the clerk. Ultimately, the clerk might become your best resource in navigating the custody system.

Be prepared to spend a substantial amount of time at the courthouse, as you'll need to fill out several forms. If possible, carve out a day to spend at family court before filing your child custody case to become familiar with the process.

To prepare yourself for the amount of documents needed, visit your state court's website in advance and look for appropriate child custody court forms. Some courts may offer a hotline for you to call and ask questions.

Don't forget important documents such as birth certificates for each child, your identification, your contact information, and the contact information for the children's other parent.

Complete all of the court documents and bring them to the courthouse. Bring some money with you as well, because you will have to pay a filing fee. You can find out exactly how much you'll have to pay in advance by speaking with the court clerk.

The court clerk will give you an index number, which will be your case ID. You should refer to this case ID anytime you need to obtain a status update on your child custody case.

Remember that the other parent will need to be notified that there's a pending child custody case, referred to as service of process. As a parent involved with the suit, you will not be able to serve your ex. You will need to contact someone who knows the other parent and ask them to serve the parent with the child custody papers.

After the other parent is served and responds to the court case, the clerk will place the case on the court calendar to be heard before the judge.

A Word From Verywell

Consider seeking the assistance of a qualified family court attorney who can help you navigate the court system and may even be able to have your case heard at an earlier time.

Consult your specific state child custody guidelines for more specific rules and procedures relating to child custody, as this information was only meant to provide a general overview of the child custody filing process.

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