Forms to File for Full Custody of Children in California

By Jeff Franco J.D./M.A./M.B.A.

Whether you’re still married to your children’s other parent, are already divorced or never married to begin with, California always requires the filing of court forms to initiate a child custody case. However, since California allows for two different kinds of custody, neither of which is referred to as “full custody,” you’ll need to determine which type to pursue.

Types of Full Custody

If you want full custody of your children, it’s likely that you want exclusive authority to make all decisions affecting them as well as to have them permanently reside with you. In California, the law separates these two forms of custody and refers to them as “sole legal custody,” which gives you the authority to make decisions, and “sole physical custody,” which allows the children to live with you. However, when filling out your forms throughout the child custody proceedings, you can ask the court to provide you with both forms of custody, sometimes referred to as “exclusive custody.”

Order to Show Cause

In the event you have an existing divorce, separation or parentage case underway or are ready to initiate one, you have the option of filing a California Order to Show Cause on Form FL-300 at any time. An order to show cause tells the other parent to appear in court to respond to your request for full custody of your children. If you go this route, Form FL-310, Application for Order and Supporting Declaration, must be filed with the show-cause form and both must be served on the parent. At the time you file the documents with the court clerk, you will receive your hearing date, which is the date that you and the other parent will appear before a California superior court judge to discuss the custody request.

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Petition for Custody

If you’re still married to the other parent of your children and a court custody order already exists or you are requesting court intervention for the first time, you can ask the court to award you full custody by filing a Petition for Custody and Support of Minor Children, also know statewide as Form FL-260, with the clerk of the court. When filling out question No.5 of the petition, be sure that you check off both legal and physical custody if you’re looking to obtain “full” custodial authority over your children.

Parentage Action Forms

California child custody procedures require parents who aren’t married to initiate a parentage action before seeking full custody of their children. A parentage action establishes that you’re the parent of the children, but it doesn’t result in a child custody award. However, it’s a necessary prerequisite to requesting full custody. To initiate a parentage action, you’ll need to obtain Form FL-200 as well as Form FL-105, the Declaration Under Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act. You will need to serve copies of both documents on the other parent, and to do this, you’ll need to fill out a summons on Form FL-210 as well. Once you initiate the parentage proceedings, you then need to file an order to show cause to request the full custody.

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A fight over child custody is often immensely stressful for both parents and children. Alabama recognizes two types of custody -- legal and physical. Legal custody refers to which parent has decision-making responsibilities for the child, while physical custody refers to where the child lives. In the state of Alabama, in an effort to foster ongoing contact between parent and child, there is a presumption in favor of joint legal and physical custody. Joint custody does not, however, necessarily mean that both parents have the same amount of time with the child. Before seeking full custody of your child, think about whether this is truly in your child's best interests.

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In California, joint custody means joint physical or joint legal custody. Joint legal custody is when both parents have an equal right to make major decisions concerning the child, such as decisions about their child's medical care, what school he will attend and religion he will follow. Joint physical custody is when the child lives with both parents, with California law determining the amount of time the child spends with each parent. Unlike some other states, California does not have a preference for joint custody, which means that California does not automatically presume that joint custody is the best decision for the child.

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