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Child Custody & Visitation

In order to get custody orders, you must file a court case, then set a court date. You can do these at the same time. If the parents have an agreement, they can file a notarized written agreement instead of setting a court date. See the "Court Order on Parenting Agreement" document for more information.

There are several different types of court case that you can file, depending on your circumstances:

If you are married to your child's other parent: You can file a case for Dissolution (Divorce); Legal Separation; or Nullity (Annullment). See the "Start Divorce" document for more information. If you don't want to file for any of these but still want custody orders, you can file a Petition for Custody and Support.

If you are divorced from your child's other parent: File for a court date (Request for Order) in the divorce case.

If you have never been married to your child's other parent: If the father was at the hospital when the child was born and the parents signed a "Declaration of Paternity" which allows the father's name to be put on the birth certificate, then you will file a Petition for Custody and Support.

If you have never been married to your child's other parent and parentage has never been legally established, or the child is not yet born, file a Petition to Establish Parental Relationship.

Setting a court date:

File a Request for Order. Before your court date, the parents will go to Child Custody Recommending Counseling to help them make an agreement. The parents will attend a class first, then be assigned to a Child Custody Recommending Counselor to help them. The CCRC will make a recommendation to the judge if the parents can't make an agreement on their own.

Some of the terms used in custody cases are:

  • Sole legal custody: One parent makes all of the decisions regarding the health, education and welfare of the children.
  • Joint legal custody: Both parents makes decisions regarding the health, education and welfare of the children.
  • Sole physical custody: One parent has parenting time with the children.
  • Primary Physical custody: Both parents have time with the children, but one parent is the primary caregiver.
  • Joint legal custody: Both parents share roughly equal parenting time with the children.

Visitation is the schedule for sharing time with the children.  It can range from no visitation to week-on/ week-off sharing of the children between parents.  It is up to the parents, and in the absence of an agreement, the mediator and judge, to determine what will work best. Family Court Services has some very valuable information on the process, as well as on child development, co-parenting and community resources.  We highly recommend that anyone with minor children take a look at this site, even if a parenting plan has already been agreed upon.

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