Obtaining Child Custody Orders in California

Generally speaking, obtaining custody orders can be done in one step. However, this is a document intensive process. Below is a short summary of the requirements and what to expect.


First, the parent seeking custody orders must obtain a case number by filing certain documents with the family court located in the County in which the children live. Usually this family law case number is obtained in one of two ways: (1) the parent either already case a family case number from the divorce process which occurred prior, or (2) the parent needs to establish the familial relationship between the child and the parents, which we will call “establishing parentage” throughout this article. This blog will describe the process when the parents have no previous family law case number and must establish parentage.


Preparing the Documents


To establish parentage, the parent must file the following documents with the family court along with a filing fee or fee waiver request and fee waiver order (FW-001 and FW-003): (1) A Petition to Establish Parental Relationship (FL-200), a (1) Summons for Parentage – Custody and Support (FL-210), and (3) a Declaration Under Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (FL-105).


Along with the aforementioned forms to establish parentage, the parent must also file certain forms to obtain a hearing, attend a Family Court Services mediation appointment, and specify the orders that the parent would like to see granted. These forms generally include the following: (1) A Request for Order (FL-300), a (2) Child Custody and Visitation Parenting Time Application Attachment (FL-311), (3) Children’s Holiday Schedule Attachment (FL-341(C)), Additional Provisions for Physical Custody Attachment (FL-341(D)), and a Joint Legal Custody Attachment (FL-341(E)).


However, each County court has what are called “local rules” and documents that must also be filed in certain cases. As such, the parent should review the County court’s website where they will be filing these documents for further instruction. For example, in Sacramento County, the parent must also attach an additional form to the Request for Order called a “Family Law Case Demographics Information Sheet for Child Custody and Visitation” (FL/E-ME-811) in order to be scheduled with Family Court Services.


Filing the Documents


Once these documents are all completed and signed, preferably in blue ink, it is time to file them. Usually the original and at least two copies must be made for filing. However, each document and court may have its own rules regarding copies required, and the Parent should also review the Court’s website for this information. Filing can be done at the Court or by mail. In some counties, filing can also be done online. Once filed, the Request for Order form will state the hearing date, time, and department in which the hearing will take place. Save this date in your calendar.


Serving the Other Parent


Next, after the documents have all been filed and the copies have been returned to the parent requesting the order, it is time to have them “served” on the other parent or parties. This means that a copy of all the filed documents must be given to the other parent so that they are on notice of the hearing, since this is after all, a “lawsuit.” These documents must be personally handed to the other parent, by someone over the age of 18 who is not a party to the lawsuit. This person can be a friend, relative, process server, sheriff, etc. If the other parent does not take the papers, these can be left near that parent.


Along with the copies of the documents that were filed, the parent requesting the order should also provide copies of the blank documents that are used to respond to the lawsuit. Generally, these include the Responsive Declaration to the Request for Order (FL-320), Response to Petition to Determine Parental Relationship (FL-220), and a blank Declaration Under Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (FL-105).

Serving is time sensitive. Service must be complete at least sixteen (16) court days before the hearing date. If there is a court holiday in between that time, that is not a court day to be counted.


Once service is completed, the parent who filed the documents and is requesting the order must ensure that a Proof of Service of Summons (FL-115) is completed, signed, and dated by the process server or person who served. This form must also be filed with the court according to the filing rules that applied to the initially filed documents.


Attend the Family Court Services Mediation Appointment


Family Court Services will contact both parents to inform them of their mediation appointment at some point after the initial documents were filed. At the appointment, the parents will be able to discuss with the mediator what their goals and concerns are, and the mediator will attempt to have the parents reach an agreement. Regardless of whether the parents can reach an agreement or not, the mediator will issue a recommendation of what the child custody and visitation should be. If one or both of the parents do not agree with the recommendation, they should attend the hearing. Otherwise, if the parents agree with the mediator’s recommendation, this will become the child custody and visitation order.


Attend the Court Hearing


Lastly, it is time for the court hearing. The Judge will at this point have reviewed the case file and the mediator’s recommendation and will hear both parties’ concerns as well as ask questions as necessary.


If you or a loved one need help with part of or all of this process, we would love to help you through it.


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