Responding to a Custody Request

If you have been served with papers that ask the court to issue an order about child custody and visitation arrangements, you should respond if you want to have input into the final decision.

To get an overview of the child custody and visitation process, read:


If you got a Request for Order (Form FL-300) and attachments

If you received a  Request for Order (Form FL-300) together with attachments explaining what the other parent is requesting:

  • Carefully read the papers you received to make sure you understand what the other parent is asking for.
  • Note the date, time, and location of the court hearing. They are listed on the first page of the Request for Order. It is very important you go to this court hearing!
  • You must respond to the papers you received if you want the court to know what your position is about child custody and visitation. If you do not respond, the court may make orders about your children without taking into account your wishes.
  • Even if you do not respond, go to the court hearing and participate in any mediation that the court orders if you want to have any input in the court’s decision about custody and visitation of your children.
  • Talk to a lawyer if you want legal advice, someone to go to court with you, or other legal help. Click for help finding a lawyer. You may be able to hire a limited-scope representation lawyer to help you with this part of the case. Learn more about limited-scope representation.

 

To respond, follow these steps:

  1. Fill out your court forms
    Fill out the Responsive Declaration to Request for Order (Form FL-320).

    You can also fill out the Child Custody and Visitation Application Attachment (Form FL-311). It is an optional form (you do not have to use it) but you may find it helpful in making sure you do not leave anything out of your request. It contains a lot of detail about schedules for visits and holidays, as well as other details that can help you as you try to make a parenting plan that is best for your children.

    If you have prepared a parenting plan or proposal for the custody and visitation orders you would like the judge to make into a court order, attach that too.

  2. Have your forms reviewed
     If your court’s family law facilitator or self-help center helps people with custody and visitation cases, ask him or her to review your paperwork. The facilitator can make sure you filled it out properly before you move ahead with your case. You can also hire your own lawyer to review your papers or to get legal advice, either with your entire case, or just the parts of it that you may need more help with (called “limited scope representation” or “unbundling”). Click for help finding a lawyer. Click to learn more about “limited scope representation.”

  3. Make at least 2 copies of all your forms
     One copy will be for you; another copy will be for your child’s other parent. The original is for the court.

  4. File your forms with the court clerk
     You will not have to pay a filing fee to file the Responsive Declaration and its attachments. But if you have never filed any papers in this case, you may have to pay a fee for what is called a “first appearance fee,” which, in general, everyone has to pay when they file court papers in a case for the first time. If you do have to pay a fee for this and you cannot afford it, you can ask for a fee waiver.

  5. Serve your papers on the other parent
    Serve a copy of the Responsive Declaration to Request for Order (Form FL-320) and any other papers you attached, on the other parent, at least 9 days before the hearing. You can have someone (NOT you) serve it by mail or in person. If you have your papers served by mail, you must do it at least 14 days before the hearing.

    Find out more about “service of process.” You can have this form served on the other parent before the clerk stamps it — just make sure you do not serve the original.

  6. File your Proof of Service
    Have the server (person who served your papers) fill out a proof of service form. The server should fill out Proof of Personal Service (Form FL-330) if he or she served the other parent in person. Or fill out Proof of Service by Mail (Form FL-335) if he or she served the other parent by mail.

    Next, you must file the Proof of Service with the clerk. (If you had the other parent served with an unstamped copy of the Responsive Declaration, you can file the original of the Responsive Declaration and attachments together with the Proof of Service.)

  7. Go to your mediation and court hearing
    Go to mediation before your court date if the rules in your local court require it. If you do not reach an agreement in mediation, go to your court hearing and take a copy of all your papers and your Proof of Service.

Keep in mind that some local courts require parents to attend an orientation before they go to mediation. The orientation is a class where the parents are offered some information on child development, what makes a good parenting plan, how the court works in that county, and other resources the parents might want to use for more help.

You may be able to resolve your custody and visitation issues in mediation with the help of a trained mediator. If you do, the mediator will probably help you write up an agreement that the judge will sign, making it a court order. If you do not reach an agreement in mediation, you will both go in front of the judge so he or she can make a decision in your case. Find out more about custody mediation.

To prepare for your mediation and your court hearing, think about what type of parenting plan would be best for your children. In doing that, it may be helpful for you to look at these forms, which contain a lot of information about issues that may come up in custody cases:

See Going to Court to read more information about how to prepare for your court hearing.

If you received a domestic violence restraining order with a custody and visitation request (Forms DV-100, DV-105, DV-109, and DV-110)

  • Carefully read the papers you received to make sure you understand what the other parent is asking for. If there are temporary restraining orders in the papers you received, follow them!

  • Note the date, time, and location of the court hearing. They are listed on the first page of the Notice of Court Hearing. It is very important you go to this court hearing if you want to participate in the case.

  • You must respond if you want the court to know what your position is. If you do not respond, the court may make orders about custody and visitation of your children (and the restraining order) without considering your position.

  • Even if you do not respond, go to the court hearing and participate in any mediation that the court orders if you want to have any input in the court’s decision about custody and visitation of your children.

  • Read How Can I Respond to a Request for Domestic Violence Restraining Order? (Form DV-120-INFO) or see this instructional video

  • Read the section Responding to a Domestic Violence Restraining Order for much more detail about answering a domestic violence restraining order request.

  • Talk to a lawyer if you want legal advice, someone to go to court with you, or other legal help. Click for help finding a lawyer. You may be able to hire a limited-scope representation lawyer to help you with this part of the case. Learn more about limited-scope representation.

IMPORTANT: If you respond, talk to a lawyer for advice, especially if you also have a criminal case for domestic violence against you. What you say in your response to the custody request could affect you, or even hurt you, in your criminal case, so it is very important to get legal advice if you are, or might be, in this situation.

To respond, follow these steps:

  1. Fill out your court forms
    Fill out the Response to Request for Domestic Violence Restraining Order (Form DV-120 | video instructions ) and Request for Child Custody and Visitation Orders (Form DV-105).

    Fill out these court forms too if the petitioner asked for, or you want, a child support order or a spousal or partner support order:

    Read Which Financial Form — FL-155 or FL-150? (Form DV-570) to find out if you can use the simpler Form FL-155.

  2. Have your forms reviewed
    If your court’s family law facilitator helps people with restraining orders or custody and visitation cases, ask him or her to review your paperwork. The facilitator can make sure you filled it out properly before you move ahead with your case.

  3. Make at least 2 copies of all your forms
    One copy will be for you; another copy will be for your child’s other parent. The original is for the court.

  4. File your forms with the court clerk
    The clerk will keep the original and return the copies to you. One is for you. The second copy is for the other parent.

  5. Serve your papers on the other parent
    Serve a copy of the Response to Request for Domestic Violence Restraining Order (Form DV-120 |video instructions ) and Request for Child Custody and Visitation Orders (Form DV-105) on the other parent.

    These papers can be served by mail. Find out more about “serving.” You can have this form served on the other parent before the clerk stamps it — just make sure you do not serve the original.

    The number of days you to serve your response varies. Look at the second page of the Notice of Court Hearing (Form DV-109), under the title “To the Person in 2,” and it will tell you when you have to serve your response.

  6. File your Proof of Service
    Have your server fill out a Proof of Service by Mail (CLETS) (Form DV-250) and give it to you so you can file it with the court. It is very important your server fills out the Proof of Service correctly. If possible, have your family law facilitator review it to make sure it was filled out properly.

    File the Proof of Service with the clerk. (If you had the other parent served with an unstamped copy of the Response to Request for Domestic ViolenceRestraining Order (Form DV-120 | video instructions ), you can file the original of the Response together with the Proof of Service.)

  7. Go to your court hearing
    Go to the hearing scheduled on the Notice of Court Hearing (Form DV-109). Go to court even if you did not have time to fill out and file a Response to Request for Domestic Violence Restraining Order. If you do not go, the judge can issue the restraining order against you for 3 years or more, and can make custody and visitation orders without your input. Go, and be prepared with your own proposal for custody and visitation of your children.

Your court may require you to go to mediation for custody and visitation before your court hearing. You may be able to resolve your custody and visitation issues in mediation with the help of a trained mediator. If you do, the mediator will probably help you write up an agreement that the judge will sign, making it a court order. If you do not reach an agreement in mediation, you will both go in front of the judge so he or she can make a decision in your case, or, in counties where there is "child custody recommending counseling," the counselor will make a recommendation to the judge. Find out more about custody mediation.

To prepare for your mediation and your court hearing, think about what type of parenting plan would be best for your children. In doing that, it may be helpful for you to look at these forms, which contain a lot of information about issues that may come up in custody cases:

Remember, the purpose of the court hearing is not just to make orders for custody and visitation, but also to make orders about the domestic violence described in the papers you received from the other parent. Be prepared to address those issues too.

See Going to Court to read more information about how to prepare for your court hearing.

If you and the other parent have an agreement on custody and visitation

The procedure for writing up your parenting plan and getting a judge’s signature so that it becomes a court order may be a little different from court to court.

In general, these are the steps you will have to follow:

  1. Fill out your court forms
    Fill out:
    • Stipulation and Order for Custody and/or Visitation of Children (Form FL-355) as a cover sheet for your custody and visitation agreement.
    • Child Custody and Visitation Order Attachment (Form FL-341).
    • Other forms you may want to use are:
      • Children’s Holiday Schedule Attachment (Form FL-341(C))
      • Additional Provisions — Physical Custody Attachment (FL-341(D))
      • Joint Legal Custody Attachment (FL-341(E))

  2. Sign the stipulation
    Both parents must sign the Stipulation and Order for Custody and/or Visitation of Children (Form FL-355) or similar document. Both of you must make sure you understand everything you are agreeing to, and no one is being forced to sign.

  3. Have your forms reviewed
     If your court’s family law facilitator or self-help center helps people with custody and visitation cases, ask him or her to review your stipulation paperwork. The facilitator can make sure you filled it out properly before you present it to the judge to review and sign. You can also hire your own lawyer to review your papers or to get legal advice, either with your entire case, or just the parts of it that you may need more help with (called “limited scope representation” or “unbundling”). Click for help finding a lawyer. Click to learn more about “limited scope representation.”

  4. Make at least 2 copies of all your forms
     One copy will be for you; another copy will be for your child’s other parent. The original is for the court.

  5. Get the judge’s signature on your stipulation
    Turn in the original and 2 copies of your signed stipulation to the judge for the judge’s signature. Make sure you ask the court clerk for the procedure in your court and that you know when to return to pick up your paperwork.

  6. File your forms with the court clerk
    Once you have the judge’s signature, make sure you file the stipulation (agreement) with the clerk. The court will keep the original and you and the other parent will each have a copy, stamped “Filed” by the court clerk.

If you need help, your local family law facilitator or self-help center may be able to help both of you write up an agreement (stipulation).

If you got papers with no court hearing scheduled

If you were served with court papers that did not show a court hearing scheduled, you probably received 1 of the following:

Any one of these documents can be used to start a family law case. In general, once you are served with these documents, you have 30 days to file a response with the court. If you do nothing, after 30 days the court can make orders without your input. The orders can include any of the issues checked on those papers like child custody and visitation, child support, or, if the papers are for a divorce, issues like property and spousal or partner support.

Sometimes, you are served 1 of these documents to start a case as well as an Request for Order (Form FL-300), which is used to get a date for a court hearing. In that case, fill out the proper response form for the document you received (which is explained in the next 3 paragraphs), as well as the forms to respond to the Request for Order. See the steps to respond to the Request for Order.

Responding to a petition for divorce or legal separation
See detailed instructions on how to respond to a Petition — Marriage (Form FL-100) or Petition — Domestic Partnership/Marriage (Form FL-103).

Responding to a petition to establish parental relationship
See detailed instructions on how to respond to a Petition to Establish Parental Relationship (Form FL-200).

Responding to a Petition for Custody and Support of Minor Children
If you have been served with a Petition for Custody and Support of Minor Children (Form FL-260 | video instructions Video Icon) asking for custody and visitation orders and/or child support, you have 30 days from the date you were served to respond.

To respond, follow these steps:

  1. Fill out your court forms
    Fill out (remember, you are the respondent):

    • Response to Petition for Custody and Support of Minor Children  (Form FL-270 | video instructions Video Icon), and

    • Declaration Under Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) (Form FL-105/GC-120 | video instructions ).

    • If you want the court to make orders about custody and visitation, you can also fill out the Child Custody and Visitation Application Attachment (Form FL-311). It is an optional form (you do not have to use it), but you may find it helpful in making sure you do not leave anything out of your request. It contains a lot of detail about schedules for visits, holidays, and other details that can help you as you try to create a parenting plan that is best for your children.

  2. Fill out these court forms too if the petitioner asked for, or you want, a child support order or a spousal or partner support order

  3. Have your forms reviewed
    If your court’s family law facilitator helps people with custody and visitation cases, ask him or her to review your paperwork. He or she can make sure you filled it out properly before you move ahead with your case.

  4. Make at least 2 copies of all your forms
    One copy will be for you; another copy will be for your child’s other parent. The original is for the court.

  5. File your forms with the court clerk within 30 days of being served with a petition
    Turn in your forms to the court clerk. He or she will keep the original and return the copies to you, stamped “Filed.” One copy is for you and the other is for the petitioner (the other parent). You will have to pay a filing fee. If you cannot afford the fee, you can ask for a fee waiver.

  6. Serve your papers on the other parent
    Serve a copy of the Response to Petition for Custody and Support of Minor Children (FL-270 | video instructions Video Icon), and any other papers you attached, on the other parent. You can have someone (NOT you) serve your paperwork by mail or in person.

    Find out more about “service of process.” You can have this form served on the other parent before the clerk stamps it — just make sure you do not serve the original.

  7. File your Proof of Service
    Have the server (person who served your papers) fill out a proof of service form. The server should fill out Proof of Personal Service (Form FL-330) if he or she served the other parent in person. Or fill out Proof of Service by Mail (Form FL-335) if he or she served the other parent by mail.

Then, file the Proof of Service with the clerk. (If you had the other parent served with an unstamped copy of the Response to Petition, you can file the original of the Response together with the Proof of Service.)

If you have also been served with an Request for Order (Form FL-300) and you have a court hearing coming up, you need to fill out more paperwork. See the steps to respond to the Request for Order.

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