How to File for Child Custody in Florida

By Christine Funk, J.D.

How to File for Child Custody in Florida

By Christine Funk, J.D.

Filing for child custody in Florida is a multistep process. Depending on whether the child is born to a married couple or an unmarried couple, the steps taken will be slightly different. However, most of the steps are the same regardless of the marital status of the parties.

Daughter and mother sitting next to each other at a desk using respective laptops

1. Determine venue.

Venue refers to the jurisdiction where the case should be filed. If you are a married couple seeking a divorce, you will file the case in the county either party resides. If you are unmarried, regardless of whether paternity has previously been established, you'll file a document called a Petition to Determine Paternity in the county circuit court county where you live.

2. Fill out the petition.

If you are divorcing, you will fill out the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage with Dependent or Minor Children (Form 12.901(b)(1)). This form includes a section on parenting plans for the children.

If you are seeking to establish paternity as well as parenting time, fill out a Petition to Determine Paternity and for Related Relief (Form 12.983(a)). Whether you are the mother or father of the child, this form will allow you to establish paternity, determine parental responsibility, establish time sharing responsibilities (also referred to as “child custody" or “parenting time"), and calculate child support.

In both instances, Florida law presumes that shared parental responsibility is in the best interests of the child. If you are seeking sole parental responsibility, you must explain why shared parental responsibility would be detrimental to the child. After completing the form, you must sign it before a notary public or deputy clerk.

3. File the petition.

You must file the petition with the court. If you are unrepresented, you may file the petition electronically. You could also choose to file the petition in person at the circuit court.

4. Serve the petition.

You must serve the other parent with notice of your petition. Typically, this involves hiring a process server, or relying of the Sherriff's Office to serve the papers on the other parent. Do not serve the papers yourself, as this is not considered legal service. If you do not know where the other parent is, you may file the paperwork by publication, which involves publishing the notice in a local newspaper for a period of time. Keep in mind that there is an additional fee associated with publication, depending on the newspaper and length of time you are publishing the notice.

5. Await a response.

Once served, the respondent (the person who may respond to the petition) has 20 days to file their response, also referred to as the answer. They may file an answer agreeing with the information in your petition, or asking for a different division of timesharing. Or they may not respond to the petition at all.

6. Respond accordingly.

If the answer agrees with your petition, call the clerk to set a final hearing. Notify the other party of the scheduled hearing using a Notice of Hearing. If the party does not agree with your petition and proposes an alternate schedule, you may work together to come to an agreement, or you will file a Notice for Trial. If the party does not file an answer, you can file a Motion for Default.

Before you file for child custody in the state of Florida, keep these steps in mind to ensure that you are following all local and state requirements. Alternatively, you could choose to speak to a professional who is specialized in family law matters and can assist you through this process.

This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.

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