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Child Custody Laws in the United States

Access the Local Child Custody Laws for All 50 States

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Each state has different child custody laws. Some states presume that parents have joint custody, while other states do not. In addition, some states presume that in the case of unmarried parents, the mother automatically has custody, while others expect single mothers to file for custody, even if the father is not involved. Click on the name of your state below to learn more about the child custody laws in your jurisdiction.

Related: Divorce and Custody | Unmarried Parents and Custody

Child Custody Laws for Every State

Alabama
Alaska
Arizona
Arkansas
California
Colorado
Connecticut
Delaware
Florida
Georgia
Hawaii
Idaho
Illinois
Indiana
Iowa
Kansas
Kentucky
Louisiana
Maine
Maryland
Massachusetts
Michigan
Minnesota
Mississippi
Missouri
Montana
Nebraska
Nevada
New Hampshire
New Jersey
New Mexico
New York
North Carolina
North Dakota
Ohio
Oklahoma
Oregon
Pennsylvania
Rhode Island
South Carolina
South Dakota
Tennessee
Texas
Utah
Vermont
Virginia
Washington
Washington, D.C.
West Virginia
Wisconsin
Wyoming

Understand Your State's Child Custody Laws

As a single parent, it is your responsibility to become familiar with the child custody laws in your state, even if you're working with a lawyer.

  • Use the link for each state (above) to access a detailed summary of the child custody laws for each state.
  • At the end of each summary, you'll find a link to the state's online copy of their current child custody laws.
  • Read through the statutes and make a list of questions about anything you do not understand.

Get Free Legal Help for Your Child Custody Case

Even if you decide to represent yourself in court, you'll want to discuss the child custody laws in your state with a qualified attorney. Fortunately, free legal help is available for those who qualify.

  • Contact Legal Aid in your state.
  • Contact local law schools to inquire about free legal clinics.
  • If you are a victim of domestic violence, contact a local shelter to inquire about legal assistance.
  • Schedule a free consultation with a qualified child custody attorney in your state.

Tips for Parents Engaged in a Difficult Child Custody Battle

  1. Find a lawyer that you trust. Winning a child custody case is about a lot more than understanding child custody laws. It's also imperative that you feel comfortable with your lawyer and feel that he or she is fairly representing you.
  2. Do your homework. Participate actively in your case by doing as much research as you can, taking the action steps recommended by your lawyer, and thoroughly preparing for your child custody hearing.
  3. Do nothing to aggravate the case against you. Be mindful that your ex's lawyer may be looking for information to use against you, so be sure to conduct yourself responsibly and avoid ugly confrontations with your ex.
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