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Documents That Can Help You Win Child Custody
Barry Yee / Photographer's Choice RF / Getty Images
It's difficult to determine which documents are important to bring to a child custody hearing. If you're confused about what to take with you , too much documentation is always better than too little. (It's better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it.) But knowing how to distinguish irrelevant from relevant documents makes all the difference.
Although a consultation with an attorney should give you some solid ideas, this list might help as well.
Written Submissions to the Court
You won't want to just show up in court with your documents. All custody proceedings begin with written submissions to the court outlining your position and clearly stating what you're asking the court to order.
If you're beginning a custody suit and acting without an attorney, it's a good idea to include copies of any documentation you gathered to support your arguments when you made your written submission. The judge will review these documents before you get to court.
If your child's other parent initiates custody proceedings, you can assume that they included their own proof when they made their written submission. You must receive a copy of the paperwork they gave the court—that's the law.
Read it over carefully. You have a right to respond to their submissions in writing. This will provide a good guide toward what additional documentation you'll need beyond this list, and what to gather to refute their comments. Make copies and submit them with your written answer.
Take additional copies to court with you as well, just to be safe. Even court staff sometimes lose or misplace paperwork, so you'll have it with you in the case of an emergency.
Now, what exactly should you include?
Phone Call Logs
Both parents should keep a diary of all phone calls made between the child and the parent who does not currently have custody. The log should include when the calls occur, how long they last, and their frequency. Do they take place every night or afternoon? Every week? Maybe twice a week? Include their nature. Are they just talking on the phone or are they Skyping?
These records are evidence of continuous contact between you and your child if you don't have custody, or perhaps the lack of regular contact between your child and their other parent if your child is currently living with you.
Be careful with this, however, because it's possible that the non-custodial parent might take the position that they didn't call more frequently because of some action you took, like not letting them speak to their child or getting into an argument with them before turning the phone over. Courts tend to take a very dim view of a parent who tries to curtail or impede the child's relationship with the other parent.
A lack of regular phone contact (such as only a few times a year, or only on birthdays or holidays) may indicate to the judge that your ex doesn't have a close relationship with the child.
Parents should also keep a log of visitation between the child and the child's other parent. A visitation schedule log should include when visits occur, where they occur, how long they last, and their frequency.
A non-custodial parent who's trying to get custody can utilize this information in court to prove a continuous and meaningful relationship with the child. A custodial parent might use a log of visitation schedules to prove the lack of a continuous relationship between the child and the child's other parent.
For example, if that parent only sees the child for short periods of time once every few months, it may be indicative that the parent doesn't have a significant interest in maintaining a close relationship with the child. This is always subject to the caveat that if they're not seeing the child, it's not due to something that you've done to prevent it.
Your Child's Records
Consider including your child's report cards and other written documentation from others showing how well they have done while in your care—or vice versa. If your child is repeatedly injured while in their other parent's care, including doctor reports and emergency treatment records.
Consider getting written statements from teachers, coaches, even your neighbors if they have first-hand knowledge of the relationship between you and your child, and the relationship between your child and your ex.
Don't Overlook a Custody Evaluation
A judge might order a custody evaluation in a truly contentious dispute to get to the bottom of things. A trained professional will meet with your child, usually repeatedly, and may visit both parents' homes, as well. It's the professional's job to report back to the court with a custody recommendation.
You don't have to wait for the judge to order one, however. If you're engaged in a particularly contentious custody battle, consider asking the court to order an evaluation or to allow you to hire an expert.
For more information about relevant documents pertaining to child custody , speak with a qualified attorney in your jurisdiction. If you don't feel that you can afford an attorney, look into legal aid in your area.
American Psychological Association. Guidelines for Child Custody Evaluations in Family Law Proceedings .
American Bar Associations. Bar Directories and Lawyer Finders .
Official Guide to Government Information and Services. Find a Lawyer and Affordable Legal Aid .
By Debrina Washington Debrina Washington is a New York-based family law attorney and writer, who runs her own virtual practice to assist single parents with legal issues.
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Filing the Custody / Paternity Papers
If you want to get the court's help with paternity, custody, visitation, and child support, you can file a paternity or a child custody case. The instructions and all the forms needed to open a paternity or custody case are in this section.
Before you begin:
- Is this page for me? The information on this page only applies to unmarried parents who do not already have a custody order . If you are married, child custody matters will be decided as part of a divorce , separation , or annulment . Visit one of those sections to learn how to file the proper papers.
- What laws apply? Learn the basics of the laws that apply to custody cases on the Custody Overview page.
- Should I file in Nevada or somewhere else? Usually, children must have lived in Nevada for the past six months (or since birth if the child is not yet 6 months old) before a Nevada judge can issue any custody orders. There are some exceptions. If the children have not been in Nevada for six months, legal advice is strongly recommended before filing any paperwork. See Lawyers and Legal Help for more information on how to find a lawyer.
Follow these steps to start a custody case:
Learn more about each step below.
1. fill out the forms.
To open a case you will need to file the forms below, or use the guided online interview to complete them electronically.
Automated Custody Forms Interview with Efile Available! (not available for paternity)
You can use an automated interview that will complete your forms for you after you answer some questions about what you want to request. To use the automated interview, click here and select the "CHILD CUSTODY: Complaint" interview. It is best to use Chrome or Firefox ( Safari is not recommended and not supported ).
At the end of the interview you can efile directly through the program or print/save your forms to file in person.
Family Court Cover Sheet - required
This form is REQUIRED. It lists basic information about you, the other parent, and the children. You are the Plaintiff and the other parent is the Defendant. The Clerk of Court uses this information to open your case.
Check the "child custody" box if you are primarily filing a custody case. Check the "paternity" box if you are primarily filing a paternity case. Do not check both.
Family Court Cover Sheet (pdf) Family Court Cover Sheet (pdf fillable)
Complaint for Custody or Paternity - required
This form is REQUIRED. The complaint tells the judge and the other parent what kind of orders you want. You are the Plaintiff and the other party is the Defendant. Fill out ONLY ONE complaint depending on the main issue you need addressed. Do not fill out both forms.
Complaint for Custody. This complaint assumes that the father is known and there is no disagreement about paternity. It allows you to propose what custody, visitation, and child support orders you want. You will check boxes and fill in blanks to tell the judge and the other parent things like:
- What kind of legal custody orders you would like;
- What kind of physical custody orders you would like;
- Your proposed visitation schedule;
- How much child support should be ordered; and
- How insurance, medical costs, and child care should be handled.
Complaint for Custody (pdf) Complaint for Custody (pdf fillable)
Complaint for Paternity. If you mainly need the court to determine who is (or who is not) the father of a child, you can file this complaint as long as the child is age 20 or younger. Any person who is named on the birth certificate or who claims to be a parent must be listed as a Defendant, so you may need to name multiple Defendants if there is more than one potential/named father.
You can ask the court to make custody orders as well once paternity is settled. The judge usually must set child support once paternity is established, even if you don't ask for it.
Complaint for Paternity (pdf) Complaint for Paternity (pdf fillable)
If you file a Complaint for Paternity, you are encouraged to also file a motion to set a court hearing where the judge can hear from all parties to try and figure out paternity. You can file a Motion to Establish Paternity and/or for DNA Testing , and you can learn more about that process on the Temporary Orders page.
Summons - required
This form is REQUIRED. This form tells the other parent that you have filed for custody/paternity. The form also tells the other parent that he or she must file a response within 21 days, or a default may be entered against them.
Summons (pdf) Summons (pdf fillable)
If efiling, use filing code SEI when uploading the summons to make sure it is processed correctly.
Joint Preliminary Injunction - optional
This is an optional injuction you can request when you file your papers. The injunction prevents both you and the other party from doing the following while the case is going on:
- You cannot cancel or change the insurance plans.
- You cannot harass each other, the children, each other’s relatives, or family pets.
- You cannot relocate the children out of Nevada without written permission.
You will be legally prevented from doing all of the above things as soon as the Joint Preliminary Injunction is issued by the Clerk. The other party will be legally prevented from doing these as soon as he or she is served with the papers.
If you would like this injunction issued, you must fill out and file the form below asking the Clerk of Court to issue one.
Joint Preliminary Injunction Request (pdf)
Joint Preliminary Injunction Request (pdf fillable)
The papers above will open a case, but they will not set a court date. You do not have to set a court date at this point. If you don't think Defendant will respond to the case, you probably don't need a court date. If Defendant does file a response, the judge will automatically set a court date and notify you both.
However, if there are ongoing issues with the other parent and you need to see a judge to set temporary visitation, custody, and/or child support, you can fill out a Motion for Temporary Orders and file it with these papers to get a court date set sooner. The motion asks the judge to put temporary orders in place while your case is pending.
2. File the forms
The fee is $259 to file a Complaint for Custody, and $270 to file a Complaint for Paternity. You can pay by cash, money order, or most major credit/debit cards. If you cannot afford the fee, visit Filing Fees and Waivers to find out how to ask the court to waive the fee.
You can file your papers one of these ways:
- Online: You can file online through the court's e-filing system, eFileNV . There is a fee of $3.50 to upload your documents, in addition to the regular filing fee. You must register for an account, you must provide a valid email address, and you must be able to scan and upload your documents as separate pdfs. Do not upload one pdf with all of the forms included - this will significantly delay the processing. Each form needs to be filed as its own pdf, but you can upload all of them in one submission. The Summons must be uploaded with the filing code SEI or it will not be filed correctly. Carefully follow the E-Filing Guide to avoid mistakes. E-Filing Guide
- In person at the Family Courthouse (check our How to File page for hours and more information) .
By Mail : ( mail takes about 6-8 weeks to process ) Mail your forms and the filing fee (with check or money order made out to Clerk of Court) to:
Family Courts and Services Center Attn: Clerk of Court 601 North Pecos Road Las Vegas, NV 89101
3. Serve the Defendant
The Court does not serve the papers for you. It is up to YOU to make sure the other parent gets served after you file for custody or your case could get dismissed.
After you complete the steps on this page, you must find a neutral 3rd person to hand-deliver a copy of the summons and complaint (and anything else you filed) to the Defendant. There are other options if the Defendant cannot be found or served in person. Learn all about how to have the other parent served by visiting the Serving the Custody Papers page.
4. Wait and see what happens.
You will have more forms to complete and file with the court to continue the custody case. The court will not notify you of your future steps. Visit the Now What? page to learn the different things you might have to do depending on what Defendant does after being served.
Family Courts and Services Center 601 N. Pecos Las Vegas, NV 89155
This website was designed and is maintained by Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada, Inc., a private, nonprofit, 501(c) (3) organization that operates the Family Law Self-Help Center through a contract with Clark County, Nevada. This website is intended to provide general information, forms, and resources for people who are representing themselves in a Clark County court without a lawyer. The information on this website is NOT a substitute for legal advice. Talk with a lawyer licensed in Nevada to get legal advice on your situation.
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Filing for Child Custody the Right Way — All U.S. States
Filing custody paperwork begins legal action.
To get your child custody case started, you have to file the proper forms. Filing is turning documents in to the court clerk to present relevant information.
Visualize your schedule. Get a written parenting plan. Calculate your parenting time.
Make My Schedule and Plan Now
Steps to filing child custody forms
If you've hired a lawyer, he or she will take care of opening a case. If you're opening a case pro se (representing yourself), you're responsible for filing.
Follow these steps to file for child custody in your state:
- Speak with a lawyer. While you're not required to have a lawyer, it's a good idea to at least consult with one.
- Know the law. Take the time to research custody laws and procedures in your state . Write down any questions you have.
- Access forms online. Many states now make their custody forms available online , including the ones necessary to open a case.
- Complete the forms. Make sure you fill the documents in accurately and completely. Direct any questions to a lawyer or your court clerk.
- File the forms. Turn the paperwork, along with the filing fee, in to the court clerk at your local family court. You'll be notified of the next step in your case.
Filing information by state and district
Always contact your court to learn about any local rules or processes. Select your state for localized information.
Using technology to help you file
The Custody X Change app can help you complete many items necessary for your case.
Use the app to create a detailed parenting plan and visitation schedule . It can also quickly calculate parenting time percentages and overnight visits for use in child support formulas .
Use Custody X Change to print or share whatever you need, letting you deliver professional-quality documents to the other parent, lawyers and the court.
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Ways to use:
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Forms and instructions to ask for a custody & visitation order once you (or the other parent) have opened a case
Click for information on fee waivers .
If you will also be asking for child support, add these forms:
Forms and instructions to set up custody & visitation with a Petition for Custody and Support of Minor Children
Forms and instructions to prepare a custody & visitation order (including child support), forms and instructions to answer papers you were served with asking to set up or change a custody and visitation order.
If the papers you were served with also ask for child support, also fill out these forms:
Forms and instructions to answer papers you were served with asking for custody and visitation orders as part of a domestic violence restraining order
Forms needed to respond to a petition for custody and support of minor children.
If the papers you were served with also ask for child support or spousal or partner support, also fill out these forms:
Forms and instructions to prepare a custody and visitation order (including child support)
Forms and instructions to change a custody and visitation order, forms needed to prepare a custody and visitation order (including child support).
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Child Custody Papers
(This may not be the same place you live)
What are Child Custody Papers?
“Child custody papers” is a very broad term that can encompass a variety of documents related to a child custody case . For example, child custody papers can include both child custody forms and child custody orders.
Child Custody Forms
Many states have child custody forms that a parent needs to fill out and file with the court in order to begin a child custody case. There are also forms that a responding parent needs to fill out and file in order to respond to the initial filed form. What these forms look like and what information is required on these forms depend on the state that you are in.
Child Custody Orders
Child custody orders are court orders that establish the child custody arrangement. They are issued after a divorce hearing or a child custody hearing. Information that might be included in a child custody order includes:
- Who gets physical custody of the child/children;
- Who is granted legal custody ; and
- The visitation schedules .
What is the Purpose of Petitioning for Child Custody?
A court order for child support may or may not establish custody rights between parents and a child. A child has the right to continual, frequent, and meaningful contact with both parents, as appropriate. A court order for custody contains a parenting plan that specifically outlines the rights and responsibilities of both parents, as well as the times and places both parents can visit with their child.
Are Child Custody Orders Necessary for Child Custody Arrangements?
Even before the legal proceedings, the parents have some sort of informal custody arrangement worked out between them. Consequently, a court order is not absolutely necessary for working child custody arrangements.
However, for the custody arrangement to be binding, a court order is necessary. In short, a court order is necessary in the case of a child custody dispute between the parents and/or guardians.
Can a Child Custody Order be Modified?
A child custody order can be modified in a couple of ways. One way is if both parents/guardians agree to the modification. Another way is if the judge grants a petition of one of the parents/guardians. In the latter case, the judge would take into consideration the circumstances of the child or children’s living situation.
Factors that the judge may consider for the modification of a court order include a parent/guardian’s new job, special needs recently developed by the child/children, change in circumstances that impact the parent/guardian’s suitability to raise the child, etc.
How Do I Know if Paternity Has Been Established?
A man can be recognized as the father of a child by:
- Consent: A mother and father may both sign an affidavit acknowledging paternity at the hospital when the child is born.
- Declaration of Paternity: A man who believes he is the father of a child can file a declaration of paternity with the State Bureau of Vital Records.
- Judgment: A judgment entered by a court may declare that a man is the legal father of a child.
What if there are Circumstances Involving the Welfare of the Child?
Most state laws consider joint custody to be in the best interest of the child. If two parents are unable to agree on a parenting plan, the court will select one parent as the “residential parent” for school and mail purposes. The court will decide custody and visitation rules. In circumstances when abuse or neglect is alleged, a court may restrict parenting time.
The court will want to know about any circumstances that may affect the best interests of the child, especially if there have been domestic violence concerns or a history of child abuse and neglect. If special circumstances involving the welfare of your child may exist, you should consult a lawyer.
How Do I Get Started?
To start filing a petition for child custody, you will need to:
- Gather the documents you may need: a certified copy of your child’s birth certificate, a declaration of paternity filed with your state’s Bureau of Vital Records, an administrative child support order, and court orders involving your child.
- Download and complete the forms necessary for a child custody petition, typically available on your state court’s official website.
- File the required paperwork with the court that established the paternity of your child. This court has the authority to enter custody orders involving your child. Make an original and two copies of your Petition for
- NOTE: There are filing fees connected with filing this petition. Contact your court’s clerk’s office for the amount due and method of payment.
- If you cannot afford the court filing fee, inquire about filing an application to have the fee waived. You will be asked to provide the court with detailed financial information under an oath so a judge can determine whether you are eligible for a waiver.
- The court clerk will prepare a summons to be served on the other parent. A sheriff or another court officer will hand-deliver the petition and the summons. It is important to provide the court with specific information about where, when, and how to find the other parent. A private process server may be appointed by the court when it is difficult to find the other parent, or if they are trying to avoid being served.
- After the other parent has been served and given 30 days to file a response, your child custody case may be set for a hearing before a judge. If the other parent does not file an answer or appear in court, the court is not required to give that person any notice of future hearings. This means that the case may be decided without a person taking part.
- You may be required to attend a parent orientation program before the case forward. Information about this parent orientation program may be given to you at the time you file your paperwork.
- If the other parent files an answer or appears in court, you may be encouraged to mediate to discuss the parenting plan. It’s often best for all parties if both parents can agree on a parenting plan. When parents agree about some or all of the parenting plans, they can submit a joint plan to the court for approval. Judges will approve agreements that are in the best interest of the child.
Do I Need a Lawyer for Help with Child Custody Forms or Modifying Child Custody Orders?
Filling out child custody forms or requesting a modification of a child custody order can be complicated. Parents who are already stressed with the situation may not want to go through the legal process without some help. Speaking with a child custody lawyer can help demystify the process.
Our database of child custody lawyers is broad and comprehensive. If you’re interested in hiring an excellent attorney in your area, use the link here . LegalMatch’s services can help you narrow down your search for a lawyer by choosing the issues involved in your case. There is no fee to present your case, the lawyers presented will be from your area, and our service is 100% confidential.
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LegalMatch Legal Writer
Ty began working at LegalMatch in November 2021. Ty holds a Professional Writing Degree from Missouri State University with a minor in Economics. Ty received his Juris Doctorate from the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law in May of 2021. Before joining LegalMatch, Ty worked as a law clerk and freelance writer. Ty is a native of Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri, and currently resides in Kansas City.
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