To petition the court for child custody, you must begin by filing a legal document with the family court in your county, formally asking the court to make a custody ruling, appointing you as the custodial parent, thereby granting you primary custody of the child or children.
The name of this legal document varies by jurisdiction.
Moreover, depending on the facts of your particular case, the legal pleading that must be filed with the court will also vary. Below is a list of court documents that you may use to commence a court proceeding for child custody and/or child support.
Divorce. If you are currently married, but you want primary custody of your child after your divorce is finalized, you must first file a Petition for Divorce. In that same petition, you may ask the court for child custody and child support. In the majority of jurisdictions, there is a requirement that child custody and child support issues be handled concurrently with the divorce proceeding.
Paternity Action. If you are the biological father of the child but are not currently named on the child’s birth certificate, or you are the father of a child that was born during another marriage that is not yours, you will first have to file a Paternity action with the family court in your jurisdiction.
In other words, you must first determine if you are the legal father of the child before asking the court for legal child custody and/or child support.
Modification. If there is already an existing court order for child support or child custody and you want to change that order, you must file a petition to modify the court’s prior order. Typically, to persuade the court to change a previous order, the filing party must show that there has been a substantial change in circumstances as to why the prior order is no longer appropriate for the child.
Legal Separation or Suit Affecting Parent-Child Relationship. If you are not currently married to the child’s parent, before filing for child custody or child support, you must first file a Suit Affecting Parent-Child Relationship or Legal Separation.
Overall, the papers that are required to be filed with the court depends on the facts of your case and the laws of your local jurisdiction.
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