How to File for Child Custody in Los Angeles

By Mary Jane Freeman

Being a parent can be both rewarding and a challenge, especially when dealing with issues of custody and visitation. Whether you're in the middle of a divorce or simply want to establish a custody arrangement recognized by the courts, you may file for a custody order. If you reside in Los Angeles, the process for doing so is relatively straightforward.

Custody Basics

In California, child custody refers to a parent's right and responsibility to care for and support their child. California recognizes "legal custody" -- the right to make decisions regarding a child's upbringing, education, and medical care -- and "physical custody" -- the right to provide a home for the child. In Los Angeles, parents apply for custody at the Los Angeles Superior Court. There are more than 45 superior courts throughout Los Angeles County, 19 of which have family law divisions. Residents of the city of Los Angeles may file for custody in any one of these 19 courthouses; however, parents typically file in the superior court closest to them.

Family Law Facilitators

Within the family law division of the Superior Court is the Office of the Family Law Facilitator. Family law facilitators are attorneys and paralegals who assist parties with family law issues, such as child custody, visitation and support. Additionally, FLFs oversee court-ordered mediation. FLFs do not charge for their services; however, they are only available during business hours and typically assist parents by appointment. For information about receiving custody help from a FLF, parents may contact the FLF office at their local courthouse.

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Parenting Plan

If you and your child's other parent can reach a custody and visitation agreement on your own, referred to as a "parenting plan" by the Superior Court, filing a custody petition is not required. Instead, parents may simply attach the parenting plan to a completed and signed Stipulation and Order for Custody and/or Visitation of Children form and submit it to the court clerk. The parenting plan and related documents are then delivered to a judge for signature. Once signed by the judge and filed with the Superior Court, the parenting plan becomes your official custody order.

Petition for Custody

If you and the other parent are unable to agree on a parenting plan, you must then petition the Los Angeles Superior Court for custody. If you already have an open case with the court, you may ask the court for custody by filing a Request for Order with the court clerk. However, if you do not have an open case, you must file a Petition for Custody and Support of Minor Children to begin one, and an Order to Show Cause to have a hearing set on the matter. The court clerk will stamp your original documents as "filed" and provide you with copies to serve on the other parent. Service may be made in person, by someone other than yourself, or by mail. Since a parenting plan wasn't previously agreed to, the Superior Court will order mediation before the hearing takes place.

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