Custody cases are generally initiated in Family Court. The petition must be filed in the county where the child lives. Sometimes, if the parents are married and getting divorced, one parent applies for custody as part of the divorce before the Supreme Court. A parent who wants to visit a child can file a petition in Family Court against the person or persons who have custody of the child.
Custody and visitation matters are often heard together at the same hearing, but a visitation request can also be filed as a separate matter. Other family members, such as grandparents or siblings, can also file a petition to request a visitation order. The court will order visitation if it is in the best interest of the child. Start by contacting the family court clerk for appropriate documentation.
Usually, the court you must file with will be located in the county where your child has lived for the past six months. Be sure to inform the clerk that you are filing the pro se return so that you have access to the correct forms. To file in person, ask for custody in the Probate and Family Court in the appropriate county. A custody order gives responsibility for the care, control and maintenance of a child to one or both of the child's parents or to another party.
A copy of the petition and a summons must be served (personally served) to the person or parties who currently have custody of the child. If you decide to go ahead with your representation, think carefully about all of your child custody options. For parents who want to file for child custody but cannot afford an attorney, filing a pro se application is a viable alternative. Your child must have lived in Massachusetts for at least 6 months immediately before filing for custody.
Below are links to forms related to child custody and visitation in each state, including information on parenting plans and arrangements when available. Be sure to read your state's court rules for child custody cases to find out what the exact rules of service are. From California to Texas, Utah to New York, knowing what forms are available will help make the child custody process much more manageable. While sole physical custody may seem like the best option for you because you don't want to live apart from your children or it's difficult to work with your ex, remember that the court will consider the best interests of the child when deciding on custody agreements.
If the parents are not married, the parent must first establish paternity before filing for custody of their child. Still, seeking child custody is a stressful process, and navigating the legal system can require a steep learning curve. In legal terms, filing for child custody pro se means filing a request on your behalf without the help of an attorney. A great way to control child custody law is to contact a family law attorney close to you who is experienced in handling custody cases.
If the parties agree on child custody, the judge can take statements from both parties and make a custody order with consent, without the need for a formal hearing. For information about child custody when you are not a parent, see information about caregivers and guardians.