“Child custody papers” is a very broad term that can encompass a variety of documents related to a child custody case. For example, child custody papers can include both child custody forms and child custody orders.

Child Custody Forms

Many states have child custody forms that a parent needs to fill out and file with the court in order to begin a child custody case. There are also forms that a responding parent needs to fill out and file in order to respond to the initial filed form. What these forms look like and what information is required on these forms depend on the state that you are in.

Child Custody Orders

Child custody orders are court orders that establish the child custody arrangement. They are issued after a divorce hearing or a child custody hearing. Information that might be included in a child custody order includes:

What is the Purpose of Petitioning for Child Custody?

A court order for child support may or may not establish custody rights between parents and a child. A child has the right to continual, frequent, and meaningful contact with both parents, as appropriate. A court order for custody contains a parenting plan that specifically outlines the rights and responsibilities of both parents, as well as the times and places both parents can visit with their child.

Are Child Custody Orders Necessary for Child Custody Arrangements?

Even before the legal proceedings, the parents have some sort of informal custody arrangement worked out between them. Consequently, a court order is not absolutely necessary for working child custody arrangements.

However, for the custody arrangement to be binding, a court order is necessary. In short, a court order is necessary in the case of a child custody dispute between the parents and/or guardians.

Can a Child Custody Order be Modified?

A child custody order can be modified in a couple of ways. One way is if both parents/guardians agree to the modification. Another way is if the judge grants a petition of one of the parents/guardians. In the latter case, the judge would take into consideration the circumstances of the child or children’s living situation.

Factors that the judge may consider for the modification of a court order include a parent/guardian’s new job, special needs recently developed by the child/children, change in circumstances that impact the parent/guardian’s suitability to raise the child, etc.

How Do I Know if Paternity Has Been Established?

A man can be recognized as the father of a child by:

  • Consent: A mother and father may both sign an affidavit acknowledging paternity at the hospital when the child is born.
  • Declaration of Paternity: A man who believes he is the father of a child can file a declaration of paternity with the State Bureau of Vital Records.
  • Judgment: A judgment entered by a court may declare that a man is the legal father of a child.

What if there are Circumstances Involving the Welfare of the Child?

Most state laws consider joint custody to be in the best interest of the child. If two parents are unable to agree on a parenting plan, the court will select one parent as the “residential parent” for school and mail purposes. The court will decide custody and visitation rules. In circumstances when abuse or neglect is alleged, a court may restrict parenting time.

The court will want to know about any circumstances that may affect the best interests of the child, especially if there have been domestic violence concerns or a history of child abuse and neglect. If special circumstances involving the welfare of your child may exist, you should consult a lawyer.

How Do I Get Started?

To start filing a petition for child custody, you will need to:

  • Gather the documents you may need: a certified copy of your child’s birth certificate, a declaration of paternity filed with your state’s Bureau of Vital Records, an administrative child support order, and court orders involving your child.
  • Download and complete the forms necessary for a child custody petition, typically available on your state court’s official website.
  • File the required paperwork with the court that established the paternity of your child. This court has the authority to enter custody orders involving your child. Make an original and two copies of your Petition for
  • Child Custody. One copy will be placed in a court file, one will be used to notify the other parent, and one will be stamped and returned to you for your records.
    • NOTE: There are filing fees connected with filing this petition. Contact your court’s clerk’s office for the amount due and method of payment.
    • If you cannot afford the court filing fee, inquire about filing an application to have the fee waived. You will be asked to provide the court with detailed financial information under an oath so a judge can determine whether you are eligible for a waiver.
  • The court clerk will prepare a summons to be served on the other parent. A sheriff or another court officer will hand-deliver the petition and the summons. It is important to provide the court with specific information about where, when, and how to find the other parent. A private process server may be appointed by the court when it is difficult to find the other parent, or if they are trying to avoid being served.
  • After the other parent has been served and given 30 days to file a response, your child custody case may be set for a hearing before a judge. If the other parent does not file an answer or appear in court, the court is not required to give that person any notice of future hearings. This means that the case may be decided without a person taking part.
  • You may be required to attend a parent orientation program before the case forward. Information about this parent orientation program may be given to you at the time you file your paperwork.
  • If the other parent files an answer or appears in court, you may be encouraged to mediate to discuss the parenting plan. It’s often best for all parties if both parents can agree on a parenting plan. When parents agree about some or all of the parenting plans, they can submit a joint plan to the court for approval. Judges will approve agreements that are in the best interest of the child.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Help with Child Custody Forms or Modifying Child Custody Orders?

Filling out child custody forms or requesting a modification of a child custody order can be complicated. Parents who are already stressed with the situation may not want to go through the legal process without some help. Speaking with a child custody lawyer can help demystify the process.

Our database of child custody lawyers is broad and comprehensive. If you’re interested in hiring an excellent attorney in your area, use the link here. LegalMatch’s services can help you narrow down your search for a lawyer by choosing the issues involved in your case. There is no fee to present your case, the lawyers presented will be from your area, and our service is 100% confidential.