Before filing for child custody in California, it is imperative to understand child custody basics in the state and the filing procedure. After reading the following overview, speak with an experienced Los Angeles child custody attorney for advice on applying California’s custody laws to your circumstances.

Your attorney can guide you through the filing process step-by-step to achieve the best legal outcome possible in your child custody case.

Two Types of Custody in California

Californians may have legal and physical custody of their children. Legal custody refers to the ability to make significant decisions in a child’s life, such as schooling, medical care, and religious upbringing. Physical custody pertains to a child’s actual residence.

Parents may share these types of custody, or a single parent may alone retain custody with the other parent receiving scheduled visitation. A parent who files a custody request with the court can work out an agreement with their co-parent in advance of any custody hearing, or the court can order a custody plan on the parents’ behalves after a hearing on the evidence.

Any arrangement the parents make on their own must meet the court’s approval and be signed into an order before it is legally enforceable. Also, the court requires parents to meet with a family court mediator before hearing or ruling on any custody matter.

There are special rules for cases involving domestic abuse. These need to be discussed with a child custody attorney and brought to the court’s attention before proceeding with a custody case.

A Request for Order in California

To schedule a custody hearing in California, the parent who desires custody must file a Request for Order or RFO explaining to the court why they believe it is in the best interest of their child that a custody order be entered in their favor. The RFO is only one of many forms to begin a child custody case.

Other forms, both optional and mandatory, include but are not limited to:

  • FL-311 Child Custody and Visitation Application (Parenting Time) Attachment;
  • FL-312 Request for Child Abduction Prevention Orders;
  • FL-341(C) Children’s Holiday Schedule Attachment;
  • FL-341(D) Additional Provisions-Physical Custody Attachment;
  • FL-341(E) Joint Legal Custody Attachment;
  • MC-031 Declaration;
  • FL-150 Income and Expense Declaration;
  • FL-105 Declaration Under Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA);
  • FL-330 Proof of Personal Service;
  • FL-335 Proof of Service by Mail; and
  • FL-334 Declaration Regarding Address Verification-Post Judgment Request to Modify a Child Custody, Visitation, or Child Support Order.

Forms filed with the court need to be complete and contain any information and evidence the filing parent, or Petitioner, wants the court to consider. The court may have limited time to listen to spoken testimony on the hearing date.

Therefore, the Petitioner must write their Declaration, form MC-031, in an effective manner and provide relevant documents with the Declaration to prove their case.

The Child Custody Declaration in California

The Declaration is the Petitioner’s opportunity to state their case for custody and tell their side of the story. The court reads, considers, and weighs any supporting information outlined in the Declaration against any conflicting testimony and evidence of the other parent or Respondent.

Ultimately, the court will make any child custody rulings based on the best interest of the children. If the child custody case is a modification of a current custody order, there must also be a showing of a significant change of circumstances affecting the children’s best interest and necessitating a change in child custody.

When determining the best interest of the children, the court considers:

  • The health, safety, and welfare of the children;
  • Any history of domestic abuse by either parent or their partner;
  • The children’s relationship with both parents;
  • Any history of drug or alcohol abuse by either parent; and
  • Any other factor’s the court finds relevant.

The court’s policy is to promote frequent and continuing contact with both parents unless a parent threatens their children’s safety and well-being.

Filing Fees and Conformed Forms in California

Once the Petitioner completes their filing package and makes any required copies, they must take these to the appropriate court clerk for filing. There are filing fees for both the documents and the court reporter. These will need to be paid unless the Petitioner qualifies for a fee waiver.

A Petitioner needing a fee waiver will request one at the same time they file their custody paperwork. Fees are around $90-$115.00 to file a child custody case.

After the custody case is filed, a copy of the stamped and dated forms, called conformed forms, must be served on the Respondent promptly. The court clerk will provide a hearing date and a mediation date along with the conformed forms.

The Service Package in California

The documents the Petitioner serves on the Respondent are known as the service package.

The service package includes a copy of all conformed forms the Petitioner receives from the court clerk along with a blank:

  • FL-320 Responsive Declaration to Request for Order;
  • MC-031 Declaration; and
  • FL-335: Proof of Service by Mail.

If the service package is not delivered to the Respondent at least sixteen days prior to the hearing date, excluding weekends and holidays, the court will not hear the case. The hearing will be rescheduled to a later time and day.

Personal Service in California

Generally, the service package is personally served to the Respondent. Personal service can be effected so long as the other party lives in California, and any adult over eighteen, except the Petitioner, gives the service package to the Respondent in person.

An incarcerated Respondent may be personally served by an adult, not the Petitioner, with instructions from the facility. The Sheriff can also serve the Respondent for a fee.

The service package may be mailed by an uninvolved adult to the Respondent. Regardless of the type of personal service, the serving adult must fill out an FL-330 Proof of Personal Service.

This form must be filed with the court clerk ten days before the custody hearing. A copy is stamped and returned to the Petitioner. The conformed copy must be with the Petitioner on their hearing date.

Contact an Experienced California Attorney Today

Filing a child custody case can be overwhelming if you are unfamiliar with the legal system. Any mistake could result in a delay or dismissal of your case altogether. Do not risk your time, money, and involvement with your children trying to tackle your custody matter on your own.

Contact the child custody professionals at Fernandez & Karney. We will handle the legal processes allowing you to focus on the most important people in your life, your children. Schedule a consultation now with a skilled Los Angeles family law attorney.