1. Parenting
You can opt-out at any time. Please refer to our privacy policy for contact information.

How to File for Child Custody

Step By Step Directions for Parents Filing for Child Custody


Mixed race mother helping daughter with homework
Roberto Westbrook/Blend Images/Getty Images

When a parent decides to file for child custody, it may be difficult to determine where to go and with whom to speak. At the initial onset, the process of filing for child custody differs in each state. However, there are general court procedures that each state has in common. Let's explore a step by step process for filing for child custody:

Process for Filing for Child Custody

  1. 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, his/she might become your best resource in navigating the child custody system.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. Complete all of the court documents and bring them to 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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 the parent. You will need to contact someone who knows the other parent and ask them to serve the parent with the child custody papers.

  7. 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.

Important Reminders

  • 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 father/s.

  • Consider seeking the assistance of a qualified family court attorney. He or she 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.

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.