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How to File for Child Custody Pro Se

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Child custody papers.

Learn how to file for child custody pro se so you'll know what to expect in court.

Photo © Cristian Baitg, 2009
Filing for child custody pro se refers to filing the papers in court yourself, without legal representation. For single parents who wish to file for child custody, or legally amend their existing child custody arrangement, but can not afford a lawyer, filing for child custody pro se is a viable alternative to paying costly legal fees. In addition, even if you do end up using a lawyer, teaching yourself how to go through the process pro se can equip you to be your own best advocate.
Difficulty: Average
Time Required: Filing for child custody pro se requires months of research and planning.

Here's How:

  1. The very first thing you need to do is contact your local family court division and ask the clerk how you can obtain the papers you will need order to file for child custody pro se. In some states, these forms can be printed right from the Internet. In other states, you will need to go to the courthouse yourself to obtain the necessary paperwork.
  2. Research child custody laws in your state. Make sure that you have a solid understanding of the details and legal fine print that could impact your case. This is tedious, time-consuming work, but your familiarity with the laws in your state will be indispensable to your ability to adequately represent yourself.
  3. Consider all of the child custody options. Don't just automatically file for sole physical custody because you don't want to live apart from your kids, or you find your ex to be difficult to work with. Give consideration to every option that is available to you, and honestly examine what would be best for your children.
  4. Maintain clear, detailed child custody documentation. Keep a record of each and every visit, phone call, email, and contact between yourself and your ex, and your children and your ex. As best as you can, stick to the facts and refrain from using accusatory language.
  5. Pay close attention to all of the deadlines and dates pertaining to your case. Many of the papers you will need to file will require follow up action within a give time period, such as 30 days. Do not miss a single deadline. In addition, keep all of your papers and materials organized. This will help you stay on top of the details of your case.
  6. Before you go to court, consider whether you feel 100% confident in representing yourself. If you do not, consider contacting Legal Aid to find out whether there are any nearby legal clinics where a paralegal or law student could review your case thus far and give you further direction before going to court.
  7. In court, make sure that you are respectful and polite at all times. Do not allow the judge to see your disdain or frustration with the other parent. Instead, focus on being pleasant and attentive, and stick to the facts of your case.
  8. Finally, do not give up. You're probably going to face some setbacks along the way while you attempt to file your child custody case pro se, but you must remember that what you are doing is 100% for your kids. This is about them.

What You Need

  • Court papers
  • Internet access
  • Determination
  • Attention to detail
  • Confidence in yourself
  • Strong convictions about your case
  • An upbeat attitude
  • A polite manner in court
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