Asking for a Custody Order

To set up a custody/visitation order for your children, you or the other parent must request an order from the court. How to do this depends on where you are at in the family court process:

  • Do you already have a family court case?
       OR
  • Are you starting a case for the first time?

The family law facilitator or self-help center in your court may be able to help you with your paperwork. Find out if you can get help before you try to do it completely on your own.

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


If you do not have an open case and need to start one

The kind of case you can start depends on whether or not you are married to the other parent or have a registered domestic partnership.

Cases for parents who are married to each other or are registered domestic partners
If you are married to the other parent or you are registered domestic partners, you can ask for custody or visitation orders in these kinds of cases:
 

Divorce (also called “Dissolution of Marriage”),

Legal Separation, or Annulment

  • You can ask for custody and visitation orders once you file for a divorce, legal separation, or annulment.
  • You can get temporary orders for custody/visitation while you are waiting for the final judgment in your case.
  • Once you have opened a divorce or legal separation case, AND you want temporary orders for custody while you wait for the final divorce, you can ask for a court date for custody and visitation issues.

Click for information about getting a divorce, legal separation, or annulment.

Domestic Violence Restraining Order

  • If you have been a victim of domestic violence, you can ask for custody or visitation when you ask for a domestic violence restraining order.
  • Read the section on Custody and Domestic Violence so you can find out how domestic violence relates to custody issues and how to protect yourself and your children.
  • Then, when you fill out your restraining order papers, make sure you also fill out Request for Child Custody and Visitation Orders (Form DV-105) and, if appropriate in your case, a Request for Order: No Travel With Children (Form DV-108). This information is explained in the custody and domestic violence section.

Click for information about getting a domestic violence restraining order.

Petition for Custody and Support of Minor Children

  • If you do NOT want to get a divorce, legal separation, or annulment, you can start a case called a Petition for Custody and Support of Minor Children.
  • This lets the court make custody and visitation orders and other orders.

Click for instructions for filing a Petition for Custody and Support of Minor Children.

Local Child Support Agency Case

  • Parents who are involved in a child support enforcement case filed by the local child support agency may also be able to ask for custody and visitation orders once certain requirements are met in that case.
  • The family law facilitator in your court may be able to give you information about how to do this. The facilitator may also help you find someone in your area that will help you.

Once you have started 1 of these cases, you can ask for custody and visitation orders.  Find out the steps you need to take to ask for custody and visitation orders.

Cases for parents who are not married and are not domestic partners
If you are NOT married to the other parent or are not registered domestic partners, you can ask for custody or visitation orders in these kinds of cases:
 

Parentage (Paternity) Case

  • A parentage case is for parents who are not married and have children together.
  • Orders in this type of case say who the legal parents of a child are, and
  • The judge can make custody and visitation orders in a parentage case.

Click for information about parentage.

Domestic Violence Restraining Order

  • If you have been a victim of domestic violence, you can ask for custody or visitation when you ask for a domestic violence restraining order.
  • Read our section on Custody and Domestic Violence so you can find out how domestic violence relates to custody issues and how to protect yourself and your children.
  • Then, when you fill out your restraining order papers, make sure you also fill out Request for Child Custody and Visitation Orders (Form DV-105) and, if appropriate in your case, a Request for Order: No Travel With Children (Form DV-108). This information is explained in the custody and domestic violence section.

Click for information about getting a domestic violence restraining order.

Petition for Custody and Support of Minor Children

  • If you have signed a voluntary Declaration of Paternity, you can file a Petition for Custody and Support of Minor Children.
  • This type of case lets the court make custody and visitation orders and other orders.

Click for instructions for filing a Petition for Custody and Support of Minor Children.

Local Child Support Agency Case
  • Parents who are involved in a child support enforcement case filed by the local child support agency may also be able to ask for custody and visitation orders once certain requirements are met in that case.
  • The family law facilitator in your court may be able to give you information about how to do this. The facilitator may also help you find someone in your area that will help you.

Once you have started 1 of these cases, you can ask for custody and visitation orders. Find out the steps you need to take to ask for custody and visitation orders.

If you have an open case and want to request a hearing for custody and visitation issues

Remember, you must have an open family law case in which you can make custody and visitation requests. Learn how to open a case.

If you need to set up a court date, first ask a mediator at your court’s family court services program to make sure you do not have to go to mediation before you file any papers.

The most common way to ask for a court date on custody issues is:

  1. Fill out your court forms
    Fill out the Request for Order (Form FL-300). You can use the Information Sheet for Request for Order (Form FL-300-INFO) for information. Ask your family law facilitator if you need to check the boxes for “Court Order” and item 4 on FL-300.

    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 do what 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, attach that too. Make sure you use the right case number for your custody case. 

  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
    Turn in your forms to the court clerk. He or she will keep the original and return the copies to you, stamped “Filed.” You will have to pay a filing fee. If you cannot afford the fee, you can ask for a fee waiver.

  5. Get your court date or mediation date
    The clerk will probably give you a court date. You may have to meet with the mediator before the court date or go to a mediation orientation. Ask the clerk if you are not sure.

  6. Serve your papers on the other parent
    Have someone (NOT you) serve the other parent with a copy of your papers and a blank Responsive Declaration to Request for Order (Form FL-320) before your court date. Look at the front of Form FL-300 to see if the court ordered you to serve any other documents. Click for more information about “service."

    • If you filed a Request for Order (Form FL-300) with the box for "Court Order" and Item 4 checked, your papers MUST be served in person at least 16 days before your court date
    • If you filed a  Request for Order (Form FL-300) with NO check marks on the box for "Court Order" nor on Item 4, you can probably serve the other parent (and the LCSA if involved) by mail. But if you serve by mail, you must do it at least 16 court days before the hearing plus 5 calendar days for mailing. Ask the family law facilitator or self-help center if you are not sure if you can serve your papers by mail
       

  7. File your Proof of Service
    Have your server fill out a proof of service (you can use Proof of Personal Service (Form FL-330) and give it to you so you can file it with the court. It is very important that 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. If you were allowed to, and did, serve the papers by mail, have your server fill out the Proof of Service by Mail (Form FL-335).  

  8. 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.


After the court hearing
Once the judge makes a decision at the court hearing, the judge will sign a court order. In some courtrooms, the clerk or court staff will prepare this order for the judge’s signature. In other courtrooms, it is the responsibility of the person who asked for the hearing to prepare the court order for the judge to sign. If either side has a lawyer, the lawyer will usually be asked to prepare the order.

If you have to prepare this order, you will need to fill out the Findings and Order After Hearing (Form FL-340), and the Child Custody and Visitation Order Attachment (Form FL-341). You may also need other custody and visitation forms like Forms FL-341(A), FL-341(B), FL-341(C), FL-341(D), or FL-341(E). And if there were any other orders made, like child support, those forms have to be filled out and attached too. Learn more about child support.

Remember, the family law facilitator may be able to help you with these forms. So ask the facilitator for help or have him or her review the forms to make sure you did not make any mistakes.

If you have a case and you and the other parent have an agreement

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 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).

Filing a Petition for Custody and Support of Minor Children

In some cases, parents can file a Petition for Custody and Support of Minor Children to ask for child custody and visitation orders.

Parents can do this if:

  • They are married to each other or are registered domestic partners and do not want to get a divorce, legal separation, or annulment but want a court order for custody and visitation (with or without child support);
  • They are not married but have already signed a Voluntary Declaration of Paternity and now want a court order for custody and visitation. (Click for information on voluntary Declarations of Paternity);
  • They are not married but have legally adopted a child together and now want a court order for custody and visitation; or
  • The petitioner and respondent have been determined to be the parents of a child in a juvenile case and now want a court order for custody and visitation.

To start a case with a petition for custody and support of minor children:

  1. Fill out your court forms
    Fill out these forms:
    • Petition for Custody and Support of Minor Children (Form FL-260),
    • Summons (Uniform Parentage — Petition for Custody and Support) (Form FL-210), and
    • Declaration Under Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) (Form FL-105/GC-120 | video instructions ).
    • 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, as well as other details that can help you as you try to do what is best for your children.

  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
     Turn in your forms to the court clerk. He or she will keep the original and return the copies to you, stamped “Filed.” You will have to pay a filing fee. If you cannot afford the fee, you can ask for a fee waiver.

  5. Serve your papers on the other parent
    Have someone (NOT you) serve the other parent in person with a copy of your papers and a blank Response to Petition for Custody and Support of Minor Children (Form FL-270) and a blank Declaration Under Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) (Form FL-105/GC-120 | video instructions ). Find more information about “service."

    Important: If you do not know where your ex-spouse or partner is in order to serve the Summons and Petition, there is a special process to help you move forward with your case. Click to find out how to serve a spouse by publication or posting when you do not know your spouse's or partner's whereabouts.

  6. File your Proof of Service
     Have your server fill out a Proof of Service of Summons (Family Law — Uniform Parentage — Custody and Support) (Form FL-115) and give it to you so you can file it with the court. It is very important that 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.

Now that you have an open case, if you want to schedule a court hearing to ask the judge to make custody and visitation orders, you need to follow the steps for the court hearing request.

If you want to save yourself a trip to the courthouse, you can combine both sets of steps and file all the papers (the ones to start the Petition for Custody and Support of Minor Children and the ones with the Request for Order that set up the court hearing) at the same time. Then you could have someone serve the other parent with the petition and the order to show cause at the same time.

See what steps you have to follow to ask for a court order on custody and visitation.

Emergency Cases

Sometimes, if a person can show that there is a risk that the child will be harmed or removed from the state of California if the court does not do something that day or within a few days, he or she can ask the court to make temporary custody orders on an emergency basis.

These emergency orders are also called “ex parte orders,” and they will only be in place for a short time. After making emergency orders, the court will schedule a regular hearing to consider whether the orders should be extended beyond the temporary period. The other parent must be told about that later hearing, and he or she has the right to be at that hearing.

It is extremely hard to get temporary orders. You must prove to the court that there is a really good reason for them and a risk of “immediate harm to the child.” So make sure you explain in detail why you believe these temporary orders are necessary to protect your child.

NOTE: “Immediate harm to the child” includes having a parent who has committed acts of domestic violence or of sexual abuse of the child, where the court determines that these acts are recent or are part of a pattern of domestic violence or child abuse that is continuing.

Read California Family Code section 3064 to read the law itself.


How to ask for temporary child custody orders
Please note that different courts have different procedures and local rules about emergency and ex parte requests, so you need to make sure you are familiar with what your court requires. These steps are just a general guide of what you will probably need to do, but should not take the place of any instructions your local court may have. Find your local court’s website and look for your court’s local rules.

1.  Fill out your court forms
Fill out these 2 forms:

  • Request for Order (Form FL-300). You can use the Information Sheet for Request for Order (Form FL-300-INFO) for information. Since you are making a request for temporary orders to go into effect before the hearing, check the box for “Court Order” and item 4.
  • Temporary Emergency Court Orders (Form FL-305).
  • You may also want to use a Declaration (MC-030) to explain why you believe the temporary orders are necessary. Explain your reasons in detail.


2.  Include attachments and make at least 2 copies

  • If there is a written agreement between you and the other parent about the temporary custody of your child, attach it to the Temporary Emergency Court Orders form. (If there is no agreement, skip this step).
  • Make at least 2 copies of your completed forms with their attachments.


3.  File the forms at the courthouse

  • Take your original forms and your copies to the court clerk’s office for filing. You may need to pay a filing fee. If you cannot afford the fee, you can ask for a fee waiver
  • Keep in mind that requests for temporary orders need to be reviewed by a judge before they are filed.
  • If there is NO agreement between the parents about the temporary custody arrangements, the court may grant the emergency orders but will schedule a special hearing to give both parents a chance to tell their story.
  • Find out from the court clerk when you should return to pick up your papers.


4.  Pick up your filed papers from the clerk’s office

  • Be sure to read the front page of your Request for Order and Temporary Emergency Court Orders to see what temporary orders the judge made, if any.
  • If there are temporary orders, these orders are in effect immediately and last only until your court hearing.
  • Whether or not there are temporary orders, the Request for Order will probably have a date and time for your court hearing. Make sure you understand what your next step is and whether there are special deadlines to serve the other parent before the next hearing. Ask your family law facilitator if you are not sure.


Depending on your court’s local procedures, you may be ordered to mediation before the next hearing, you may have to go to a mediation orientation, or you may just have to go to your court hearing first. Ask the court clerk or your family law facilitator if you are not sure.

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